My failure resume

Dr. Tina Seelig is Professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering (MS&E) at Stanford University and a faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University’s School of Engineering. She also famously authored the idea of a failure resume. This idea can best be described in her own words:

“I require my students to write a failure résumé. That is, to craft a résumé that summarizes all their biggest screw ups — personal, professional, and academic. For every failure, each student must describe what he or she learned from that experience. […] after they finish their résumé, they realize that viewing their experiences through the lens of failure forced them to come to terms with the mistakes they have made along the way and to extract important lessons from them. In fact, as the years go by, many former students continue to keep their failure résumé up-to-date, in parallel with their traditional résumé of successes.”

A failure resume is a quick and easy way to demonstrate that failure is an important part of everyone’s learning process, especially when you’re stretching your abilities, doing things the first time, or taking risks. Not every attempt at pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is rewarded with success. However, I noticed my failures generally lay in the fact that I did not push myself enough and instead chose to be a permanent resident of the comfort zone. Below is a quick insight into my failure resume.

Personal failures

Taking the path of least resistance

Confrontation has never been my forte. My conservative upbringing has always taught me to respect the experience of those much older than me and never question the wisdom that our adults aim to impart to us. This has always led to me shirking away from confrontation and in turn has given those around me the power to make decisions for me — which meant I was giving up control of my life to those around me. I have then gone on to use that lack of control over my decisions as an excuse for the other failures in my life. One such example was when I like any other high school student applied to colleges in the US with the doe-eyed hope that I would get to experience the American university life that movies and shows had romanticized. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to realize the dreams I had set out to due to financial constraints. My conservative parents also didn’t want me to take out a loan or work on campus to support myself as they didn’t believe it was something a woman ought to do. I was unable to convince them of my strength of my ability to survive on my own. I took the path of least resistance and chose to pursue my education in Pakistan instead. This meant that I had little to no say in where I chose to pursue the four most important years of my education. While the education I received was excellent, I do believe that I could have benefited from exposure to the field of Computer Science which was lacking in Pakistan — a country that is just now beginning to get its foothold in this field.

Academic failures

Taking courses for the As

Running after grades is a mentality that universities reward. Being on an honor roll is considered the utmost award that any student could receive. I too, like many others fell prey to this idea. I took courses not for the skills they would teach me but instead for their appeal as an ‘easy course.’ I strayed away from courses that I thought would negatively affect my GPA and instead chose to sit on the sidelines watching my friends take on interesting courses and learning things that I was too scared to. While I did take far reaching courses well outside my major, I wasn’t able to get the strong technical standing in my own major that I would have received had I done a deeper dive into interesting research areas.

Not learning from those around me

I have always considered myself to be an extremely hardworking and smart individual. My grades reflected that (though since a GPA is easily gamed — I don’t consider it an accurate description.) However, I was also surrounded by extremely talented individuals which meant that at any given time I was never the smartest in the room. The fear of letting on that I knew very little meant that I shied away from many conversations that I didn’t understand, where the smart move would have been to raise my hand and ask questions. It is commonly said that any conversation you have should add to your knowledge. I instead was party to conversations where all except for me would benefit from the discourse because they asked questions and dug deeper.

Professional

I preface this section with the disclaimer that I am a recent graduate and it is too early for me to have too many regrets

Not taking the time to realize what I want

When I got the job offer from Google I took it without a second thought. I was the first one from my university to get a job offer from a large tech company directly after graduating. It was a big deal. Given that I had few days to make a decision, and I was just starting my senior year, I accepted the offer without thinking much about what I wanted in the long run and if Google fit into the grand scheme of what I wanted from my life. I could have instead taken the time out to reflect on my 3 month internship at Google, at what I had learned and at how it shaped me. Now, nearly 6 months in, working at Google isn’t a decision I regret. I am surrounded by intelligent thoughtful people and my colleagues and superiors genuinely care about my advancement. However, I do wish that I had taken the time out when I was able to, to understand what I wanted my career to look like and what I aspire to do when at work.

Not taking risks and not being curious enough

Any TV show or movie based around a university campus will have the same cliche: ‘Your undergraduate studies is a time for experimentation, of trying new things, of discovering yourself.’ I did neither. I stuck to the same extracurricular I pursued in high school and stayed away from all other activities and projects for the fear of not being good at something. During university this fear reigned me from taking on projects or research that I knew nothing about and still affects me as a new employee. While others saw their lack of experience in a field as a reason to lean in and try it out I saw it as a clear con. This is something I am consciously trying to change. From Saying Yes once a month to doing things I think the old me would never have done.

Doubting my abilities

When you grow up a woman in a conservative community you are told to sit a certain way, and always be ladylike. That you shouldn’t pursue tasks that are hard — those were for the opposite gender to solve. This always meant I relied on the assistance of those around me to get much done, which led to self doubt being my largest weakness. The first sign of a problem had me raising my hand to seek out help. Where digging through a problem would have taught me more I chose to sit back and watch others solve my problem for me. I would often explain this away by quoting the saying (paraphrased) ‘Asking for help doesn’t make one weak, knowing when to ask for help is what makes people strong.’ However, since I often doubted my own ability to solve a problem and instead relied on others around me, I have given up on many learning opportunities throughout my education for the fear of being stuck with a problem and no one to help me solve it.

This article is meant to act as an accountability check in the new year. A way of opening up about my problems and checking in on my progress with addressing these issues as the year moves on. To reach out and understand if there are those who have suffered the same failures I did. This is not to be confused for a rant against anyone in my life, but instead a way of exploring and understanding my own failures across all aspects of my life.

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