Celebrating Failure

You may have already read the story about Johannes Haushofer, a Princeton professor who published his CV of failures earlier this week.

Most of us have the tendency to share publicly only the sanitized, neat parts of our lives. Think of your social media profile. Unless you are one of those insufferable pandering-for-pity folks on Facebook, you probably have cultivated a nice profile of a sterile-but-fun life that a future employer might stumble across and not take any offense to. Nowhere in my social media profile will you find a video of me trying to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans. Nope, nope, nope. While some pervy may like it, that would be a humiliating showcase of all of my insecurities. It could be a 6-second Vine, and that would be enough to crush me. So yeah, that video will never surface. And let’s be honest, I have made sure that video does not even exist.

Sisters In Law Bloggers have found that the greatest response to our posts occur when our bloggers are vulnerable and allow others to see our imperfections. It is in those moments when we allow ourselves to be human that we connect with others in a deep and meaningful way. Since our inception in January, Mey’s Dirty Laundry post is the most visited, shared and commented on the site. I do not think there is any question why that would be the case if you look back at it.

Back to Professor Haushofer – The Washington Post’s WonkBlog shares that “[i]n just showing the successes, a résumé or CV actually reflects only a tiny slice of one’s experience – and perhaps not even the most important part.” So with that in mind, I’d like to share some professional failures that broke my heart in the month of April.

I applied to a position I’ll call my legal dream job for the seventh time. SEVEN times. This was my seventh application since 2011. I asked for support and collected 10 letters of recommendation from people I respect and admire. These are not just friends – these are former coworkers, supervisors, professors, public servants and fellow comedians who portray me in a light I never could. If there is a Hall of Fame of professional wing men, these 10 are in it. These are the people who say to you “I wish you could see yourself through my eyes” and mean it. They see the best parts of me—parts I cannot even acknowledge—and sell them with gusto.

Well the application worked, and for the first time in seven tries, I made it out of the resume pile to an interview. I knew I would shine in the interview. Everything I lack on paper, I make up for in personality. This was going to be the first round of three. I went to the interview on a Tuesday morning. It was a half-day grueling affair. It was difficult, but I thought I left there okay. My face was marred by dust and sweat and blood, but I was not mortally wounded. I sent my hand-written thank you notes immediately (postmarked Wednesday morning) and waited to hear what was next. It would not be good news.

The following Monday, I received a thin letter. It was mailed on Friday, but was dated the same Tuesday as my interview. It was a letter I had seen six times before with the exception of this line: The members of our hiring committee enjoyed meeting you.

We have received a very large number of applications from very highly qualified attorneys such as yourself.

Unfortunately, we are only able to extend offers to a portion of those who interviewed.

We regret that we are unable to offer you a position at this time.

My heart broke before I even opened the envelope. Standing there in the mailroom, I was never being picked to play sports, never getting asked out, never getting to shine because the microphone was turned off during my solo, never being kissed, never going to my first choice university, never going to my first choice law school, because who do I think I am? I am someone who will never, ever be good enough. I felt so small and unimportant. Was that letter typed out before I even got there? Did it even matter that I interviewed? Did I ever even have a chance? Does my personality actually suck MORE than my resume? Why do I even keep trying? Seven times? This is the professional equivalent of that video of me trying to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans going out on the ALL_ATTORNEYS email list.

I collected a number of “keep you chin up” and “things will get better” and “this too shall pass” messages because it is sound advice. It is how we help and encourage each other to rise from a fall. And I even got a few sweet “it’s their loss” and “what a bunch of fools” and “they don’t even deserve you” messages. I turned my attention back to a promotion I had applied to at my current office. I had interviewed with a panel of five people from my office. The same week I received the thin letter, I got a form email:

We regret that we are unable to extend you an offer at this time.

As you may be aware, we receive a large number of applications, many of which, like yours, exhibit impressive credentials.

It has been a week and no one has spoken to me about it. As a person who has a difficult time initiating hard conversations, it is more discouraging to pretend like it never happened. Was this a one night stand? Should I never bring it up again to those involved? Will I be that “crazy” girl if I do bring it up? Should I have managed my expectations better?

I finally reached out to ask for feedback and heard back from one of the five. I learned that it was close, but that I lack management experience. In my work life, management experience feels like a chicken-and-egg problem. I cannot get management experience unless someone takes a chance on me, but who will take a chance on me when I do not have management experience?

If I were Carrie Bradshaw, I would have a succinct, eloquent closing for this 30-minute adventure. Alas, I am short, brown and far less stylish. My takeaway is the advice I would give if it happened to my friend. Yes, Rashee does a lot of self-affirming talk, so you can stop reading now if you’re tired of it:

You are a good person. You are worth it. You are an excellent attorney. You don’t know what is going on in that office right now. This may be the wrong time. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a right time. Even if there isn’t a right time, maybe you that door needs to stay closed to you for a reason outside of your abilities. This is one bump in the early part of a 30 year legal career. You cannot let one brush with adversity bring you down forever. This will only define you if you want it to and if you let it. You are not that person. You are better than that. Do not ever stop being yourself. Be the brave, smart, fearless trial attorney that you know you are.

Who knows? Maybe six months from now, this will be a hilarious nadir on the journey to my life’s joy. As they say, April Showers Bring May Flowers.

WonkBlog says that Professor Haushofer said in an email that he first wrote a CV of failures a few years back to show support for a friend who was facing a professional setback. How kind is that?

Have you failed lately?

What did it feel like?

How did you come back from that disappointment?

Please share if you dare!

Rashee 4-29-2

One thought on “Celebrating Failure

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