Famous Failures

My biography is a facade.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t lied or presented “alternative facts.”

But I conveniently left out all of the struggles, mistakes, and failures–those embarrassing little blemishes on a seemingly smooth canvas.

Instead, my bio presents to you the highlight reel of a less-than-perfect movie.

Missing from the highlights are innumerable rejections from employers, the Cs I got in several college classes, the law review articles that received heaps of rejections, the publishers that turned me down, and the girlfriends that dumped me.

I know I’m not alone. Take a casual look at any person’s resume or LinkedIn profile, and you’ll see a long list of accomplishments, awards, and statistics.

But you won’t see any failures.

It’s become commonplace to puff ourselves up and create curated positive portrayals of our imperfect and flawed lives. We round off the edges, airbrush the negatives, and present a perfect image to the public that we carefully nurture and maintain.

In the age of social media, our public image has become synonymous with our self-worth. Each “like” is another hit of dopamine, another boost to our vanity metrics.

My goal is to get us to talk–no, brag–about our failures in public the same way we talk about our successes.

I’m not merely talking about “Don’t be afraid to fail” platitudes here. It’s one thing to fail frequently, but something else to do it openly.

The obligation to be open about failures applies particularly to those who have achieved success.

We tend to put these people on a pedestal. We assume they have the skills and talents that mere mortals lack. We believe their success was predestined and built into their DNA.

But dig deeper, and you’ll find that there is no magical “it.” No overnight successes. No one “a-ha!” moment.

The titans got to where they are after failing, failing, and failing some more.

Some are willing to talk openly about their failures.

Take JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter. Over the years, she accumulated a drawer full of rejection letters and even shared some of them on Twitter.

Michael Jordan also kept a tally of his failures and talked about them in public:

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

The Rowlings and Jordans of the world are the exceptions.

Most successful people are hesitant to reveal their shortcomings to leave their public persona untarnished.

But with great success comes an equally great obligation.  The titans should speak up about their flops to comfort and inspire others who believe they weren’t born with “it.”

If we knew how much and how hard the titans failed, we would be more comfortable to make mistakes and less likely to become paralyzed when failures inevitably start to hit.  With their failures revealed, the titans would also look more human and less divine.

This is where Famous Failures comes in.

On Famous Failures, I will feature successful authors, politicians, entrepreneurs, academics, and corporate executives willing to openly discuss their failures and what they learned from them.

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