What is a Failure CV?

A failure CV is an inverse of the stereotypical CV.

In a typical CV, we:

  1. Hide all our failures
  2. Demonstrate our strengths, curated based on what we believe the interviewer is looking for
  3. Use actionable verbs to highlight our achievements to make them more impressive

Conversely, in a failure CV, we:

  1. Show all our failures
  2. Demonstrate the reason why we did what we did and what we were aiming for initially
  3. Use explicit terms to highlight how and why we failed

Here’s my Failure CV, which I keep updated regularly.

Why Do It?

To encourage Risk-Taking

The thing about achievements and success is that it’s fundamentally a numbers game. Make more attempts, and you’ll eventually achieve success in one of them, assuming you’ve put in an above and beyond effort on all the shots. Now, what happens then after you were successful in some of the goals you’ve set for yourself? Unintuitively, you’ll become weak, at least I did. I became less willing to step outside of my comfort zone, and every time I was met with rejection or failures on certain fronts, I’ll retire to my activities of glory and relish in my past glory there. This happened to me with hackathons, debates, and scholarships. I was lucky and got results for many, but it adversely harmed my future attempts to step into AI, coding, and entrepreneurship. Simply because these newer frontiers came harder to me, I retired to my past glories, raising my towel before I achieved any results.

Here’s how a failure CV helps here. It reminds me that achieving anything is but a function of effort and attempt. So partially, it reminds me of how much effort I actually inputted to get what I got. Which then encourages me to keep taking risks, to keep reaching outside of my comfort zone. The failure CV makes sure I do.

“If you never fail, you’re only trying things that are too easy and playing far below your level… If you can’t remember any time in the last six months when you failed, you aren’t trying to do difficult enough things.”

Elizer Yudkowsky, Inadequate Equilibria(Chapter 7)

To keep me Humble, in light of the “glory cv” that I show everyone

I’m a prideful bugger. Everyone has a bearing on where they stand in relation to their peers, and often with pride, I craft a narrative for myself that puts me in the spotlight. A failure CV reminds me of what it was that brought me where I am. Not because I was a genius or a talented man, or because I was good-looking, no. I was blessed with the resource of a reasonably well-off parent who kept supporting me despite my failures. I was blessed with plenty of second chances. I was blessed with the time and opportunity to keep working on what I found interesting.

I’m very blessed. And the number of items on the failure CV reminds me so.

“Ability is of little account without opportunity. "

Napoleon Bonaparte

For when I’m grey and old, and I regale my tales to those who come after

I have a terrible memory. Frankly, science has demonstrated that our memory is malleable, and we subconsciously choose to remember and forget whatever is in our best interest. Failure is not in my best interest; thus, my memory tends to forget. Yet, failures are the wind of any ship that travels far. Failures were the fire that molded the strongest of irons. Failures are the essence of any advice we hope to give.

A failure CV helps me – and I hope you as well – to one day look back at the adventure of a life we’ve had. It encourages us to take action and risks with our lives. Just like how kids say it’s “for the gram” when they do risky, and yet cool stuffs, so it’s “for the failure cv” as well when we take risks.

Start a Failure CV

It takes effort, for sure. But of the many lists that I keep in my life – and trust me, I keep a lot of lists – the failure CV is one of the ones with the highest returns. It reminds me to be humble when I’m prideful, to keep trying when I’ve given up, to have fun, and take risks when I’ve become conservative. It is worth it.

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

“Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather. Finally, a thought. He who has never sinned is less reliable than he who has only sinned once. And someone who has made plenty of errors—though never the same error more than once—is more reliable than someone who has never made any.” [1]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

[1] I wouldn’t frame risk-aversed people as losers. Granted, I do see where Nassim Taleb is coming from. No matter how wise it is to actually learn from the mistakes of others instead of ourselves. It is unavoidable, and it is true that some lessons can only be learnt after making the mistakes ourselves, that we become better humans.