The Failure Resumé: Shattering the Carefully Curated Life

A friend in graduate school told the story of how she asked a class of super-achieving Harvard undergrads to write a “failure resumé”, and then had them share it with the class. One doesn’t think of Harvard students as having much to fill a failure resumé, but they do. All of us do.

I have been mulling/agonizing over the idea of  documenting my failures for a few months. You can read my failure-free bio for this blog here (even the photo depicts a woman several years younger and several pounds lighter) and I write about faking perfection here.

Just this week my email delivered the news that I did not get a fellowship I applied for.  And a professor to whom I made a heartfelt plea to allow me to take a much-desired course without the prerequisite, providing documentation as to why I was qualified to do so, said no.  A much-hoped-for scholarship dribbled in in an amount equivalent to 2 trips to the grocery store.

Further back? In college I was so shy I couldn’t speak, a serious problem in a school where we were required to discuss our work one on one with our professors every other week. Freshman year, a professor wrote in my evaluation, “I hope her winter vacation in Arizona proves restful and useful.” A real diamond in the rough, I was.

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In my 20s the Jesuit Volunteers rejected me. In the interview, I think I may have come across as a bit too buttoned-up. I remember being puzzled as to why the young man interviewing me suddenly interjected, “Well, it’s not like we’re dancing with lampshades on our heads!”

After a long discernment, I entered a contemplative convent and came back out. In my 30s, I was not accepted to —or shall I say was rejected from—the MFA in Writing at Arizona State University. I started knocking out the prerequisites for an MA in English and then petered out and succumbed to the endless duties of housewifery and motherhood.
Dozens and dozens of rejections have arrived from literary magazines. They will keep arriving.

First world failures! Dilettante disappointments!

Okay. Harder stuff. My third and final pregnancy miscarried. She would be 12 now. My husband and I attempted to adopt a little boy from the foster system. That little boy (he would be a teenager now) isn’t with us. In my 40s, a 20-year friendship came to an end, and I have never laughed as hard with anyone since. In my 40s, I spent three years applying to entry level jobs and netted ZERO interviews. No interviews for entry-level thumb-twiddler at the ACME Co., nor for entry-level positions at companies where a friend’s husband was the Vice President or the CEO, and their wives were rooting for me.

Then there are all the failures I can’t write, including last month when I was walloped by a particular and personal rejection clotted and sour as spoiled milk. #curatedlife

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Our failures reveal our vulnerability and humanity, yet we paper over them with snapshots of our beautiful food or with clever quips about our day or with images of our perfect homes (that’s my favorite!) and gorgeous children. Our wounds are nursed in private. We crop out the flaws.

We do this because we want to be held in high esteem. We want to be called for the interview. Invited to the party. We want to be accepted by those around us we perceive as accomplished or intelligent or extraordinarily kind, forgetting that often they themselves are curating what we see, if not in social media, then with the carefully turned phrase, or forced smile, good grooming, fancy education or devil-may-care affect.

Why write a failure resumé? Because failure is part of the formula, part of the truth of our lives. Without failure we would know nothing of humility. Jesus taught, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The world demands we exalt our blessings and accomplishments and try and join those at the head of the table. Let us instead seek a lower place. By cultivating humility we can begin to heal the wounds we inflict on ourselves with perfectionism, and those wounds we inflict on others with competitiveness and pride.

Here I offer the Litany of Humility. If you pray or desire to pray, have a go at it. It isn’t for amateurs. I find it to be the hardest prayers in Christendom to say. But I’m not very humble.

The Litany of Humility

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, O Jesus. 
From the desire of being loved,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, etc. 
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. 
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. 
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase
and I may decrease, etc.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should.

Amen.

Feel free to share excerpts from your failure resumé in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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