Nobody would deny that Johannes Haushofer is an accomplished man. Currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton, he holds two PhDs (one in economics from Zurich, where he graduated summa cum laude, and one in neurobiology from Harvard) and a double first from Oxford in physiology, psychology and philosophy (https://www.princeton.edu/~joha/Johannes_Haushofer_CV.pdf). He’s generated millions of dollars in research funding and scooped dozens of academic prizes throughout his career. Yet it isn’t his successes that have got everyone on the internet talking, it’s his failures.
Haushofer recently published his “CV of Failures” via Twitter, listing academic programs he was not admitted to, funding he was not awarded, jobs he did not get and academic papers that were rejected from prestigious journals. Haushofer admits this list is unlikely to be complete, simply noting all that he could remember. It’s still an extensive list, including a PhD in economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, a PhD in psychology from Harvard, a PhD in neuroscience and psychology from Stanford, the graduate medical programs at Cambridge and UCL and a BA in international relations at LSE. He was rejected for jobs at Harvard, Berkley and MIT, and was unable to apply to most of the world’s top economics departments (MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, LSE, Stanford, Berkeley) because one of his advisors felt he could not write a strong letter on his behalf (https://www.princeton.edu/~joha/Johannes_Haushofer_CV_of_Failures.pdf). He considers his “meta failure” to be the fact that his subversive CV has generated significantly more interests than his entire body of academic work.
So what was the reason for Haushofer’s undoubtedly brave public masochism? After noting on Twitter that he wanted to “give some perspective” to his successes, he also acknowledged that most of what he tries fails, but that he also wanted to encourage those who have met similar failures (and who among us hasn’t?) to keep trying rather than becoming discouraged. It’s true, all of us hide our failures on our CV, documents that seem to imply that our lives have been nothing but an exciting adventure studded with accolades and successes. Nobody, even Princeton professors, can claim this. Hong Kong is not the kind of place that embraces failure. Perhaps it should be, as it is essential element every person’s career. Every honest person, anyway.
One thing Haushofer has clearly managed to do is “fail productively” or “fail up”. Fail in a way that allows you to grow, learn something, and move forward productively. That is a vital skill that most of us spend our 20s learning. So when you’re next staring at that rejection letter (and you will), work out how you can convert it from an obstacle into a stepping-stone.
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