Don't be afraid to Fail.
"We regret to inform you that you were not selected for this position/fellowship/scholarship/graduate program."
No one wants to open a letter or an email and have to read that phrase. Showcasing all our experiences and professional desires in a resume or essay can fill us with pride because of our past achievements. At the same time, it puts us in a vulnerable position, because it is almost inevitable to compare ourselves with the ideal imaginary candidate and think that we are not enough. This is why, when you don’t get what you worked so hard for, it feels like a confirmation of this suspicion you already had of not being enough for your aspirations.
These thoughts are much more common than you think, and, although we live more connected than ever, mysteriously, failures are rarely visible. A quick look through social media shows us a world full of brilliant acquaintances; we have artists, musicians, scientists, social advocates and all kinds of professionals conquering the universe with their talent.
"Do not compare yourself with others" is almost instinctively said. But, is it really feasible avoid comparing yourself with your colleagues? My honest opinion is, NO.
I think it's healthy to look around you to determine your contribution to the status quo. It’s normal to set goals and, from time to time, being a little competitive to achieve them. Some say it forges character, others say it gives us a healthy target to focus our energy.
However, as part of this process of becoming more competitive, we tend to hide our weaknesses and failures. Ironically, being open about our fiascos projects strength and security in our self image. In addition, having this mentality helps create awareness of our past experiences, and provides us a better capacity to improve and achieve what we want.
I am a victim of this culture that hides failure, but I am also guilty of maintaining it. I recognize that, to feel validated in my network, I have only shown my best side, my honors achieved, while keeping my failures well hidden. I wrote this to compensate for the times I've bragged to project security. The reality is that my failures far exceed my triumphs, but, without them, I probably would not have triumphed in anything at all. Also, as time passes, I have noticed that being open about my weaknesses and failures not only makes me better professional, it also makes me a better person.
I ask you not to be afraid to put your everything in that goal you want so much. If you don’t succeed, the real failure will be not using that experience as a ladder to improve yourself. If you fail again, fail better. Find help and find mentors. Be critical with yourself, not to destroy your confidence, but rather, to build a better version of you, always keeping realistic expectations.
Nikola Tesla, one of my favorite scientists, once said:
“Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more”
Tesla revolutionized the world and had many failures in the process... if he had them, why should I presume that I wont?
Using as inspiration the article written by Dr. Melanie Stefan about failure, here is my resume/CV of failures. In it, I highlight all my big fiascos/obstacles (the ones I remember anyways) during my professional career. It is true that I never wanted to have these failures, but it is also true that I have used them as my personal ladder to success. I hope this helps those of you that feel too insecure to reach for the stars for fear of not being able to fly yet. We all fail at some point.
Have you ever failed? How did you use that failure to improve?
Tell us in the comments!
Reinaldo Franqui Machín, PhD
Failures in Law (I have not started my studies yet and I already got the first):
· I did much worse than I expected on my LSAT (law school admission test).
Failures/Obstacles during my Doctorate:
· I changed laboratory in the second year of my PhD program.
· I was close to giving up and leaving the doctorate program multiple times.
· It took me almost 4 years to produce reliable and reproducible data.
· It took me almost 4 years to move a scientific project forward.
· I went through deep depressions because of the culture shock between Puerto Rico and Iowa
Doctoral Programs to which I was NOT accepted:
· I was not accepted into the Molecular Bio PhD program at the University Of Pennsylvania
· I was not accepted into the Genetics and Molecular Bio PhD program at the University of Chapel Hill
· I was not accepted into the Molecular Bio PhD program at the University Of Duke
I was not accepted into the Molecular Bio PhD program at the University Of NYU
· I was not accepted into the Molecular Bio PhD program at the University Of Wisconsin-Madison
· I was not accepted to many other programs (I do not remember them)
Scientific Journals that Refused to Publish my Research:
· Cancer Cell
· Nature Communications
· Cancer Research
· New England Journal of Medicine
· And many more…
Fellowships or Scholarships I did not receive:
· Scientist Sentinels: Civic Engagement and Leadership Program
· AAAS Mass Media Fellowship
· American Society for Cell Biology Biotech Training Program
· Many more…
Job Positions I did not receive:
· Consultant, Strategic Research for EAB
· Science Policy Analyst for American Institute of Physics
· Research Assistant for the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative
· Patent Analyst for CPA Global
· Many more…