CV of Failures

When we first presented the idea for this blogpost to our labmates the response was practically unanimous:

“Where do I start”.

“There’s too many failures to count”.

“My life is one big succession of failures”.

It became abundantly clear from the get go that this is a lab full of seemingly successful people with a long history of failing. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Life is full of hits and misses and it’s ridiculous to assume that everyone else around you is all hits and no misses. But we do that don’t we. At least I do.

Anytime things don’t go according to plan I very easily fall down the rabbit hole of believing that there’s something wrong with me or my abilities. That’s silly; I, and anyone else, really shouldn’t do that. There’s a million reasons why things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes it will be your mistake, sometimes it will be someone else’s, and sometimes it really will just be bad luck.

What surprised me most when researching this article is not that the wonderful, talented, industrious people around me have failed at one point or another, but rather how comforting it was to talk about it. Hearing people you respect and admire owning up to past mistakes, bad luck and previous misgivings sure does make you feel better about your own mistakes, bad luck and misgivings.

So, let’s take a minute to appreciate some of our failures:

  1. “I applied for a PhD scholarship. I didn’t even make it to the interview round. I’m now a self-funded PhD student.On the same year I also worked for several months on a PhD application for Oxford Uni. I wrote down the wrong deadline. I missed the deadline.”
  2. “The entire academic year of 2015/2016 was essentially a succession of failures for me! I had just finished my masters and was working as a nanny by day and in a bar by night while looking for my first ‘real’ job. My failures included countless (probably close to 50) failed job applications, 4 failed job interviews and one failed PhD application!”
  3. “I applied for what felt like 30 jobs while I was finishing off my masters. Only got one interview and then didn’t even go on to get the job. I had a solid two weeks of randomly bursting into tears not knowing what I would be doing in a few months time”.
  4. A list of all the grants applied for and all the grants rejected. “This is about a 35% success rate but I’d say it was lower when I was earlier in my career.”

It’s clear that all of us, from us early PhD researchers just starting out, to our wonderful and accomplished supervisor, have had things go wrong.

That’s just life isn’t it. You’re allowed to be disappointed and you’re allowed to be upset but you’re not allowed to let it stop you. You have to keep going. Because life is going to be full of failures but it’s also going to be full of moments of success. We must take those wins when we can.

As a child of the 90s growing up in Canada, I spent a solid amount of time watching the adventures of Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus. I learned a hell of a lot from that show but her catch phrase is what has stuck with me most.

“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

Now that is some good advice.

It’s important to take chances, and it’s important to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and all the small failures that you will inevitably incur over time are nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve learned a lot about myself from the moments where things didn’t go according to plan (namely that I really don’t like when things don’t go according to my plans). Life is messy and mistakes are never fun, but so long as you pick yourself back up and keep trying then you have nothing to worry about.

Good luck friends.

Sincerely,

-Sinéad