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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.

We should talk about our failures in public the same way we talk about our successes.

My goal is not to fetishize failure. There’s a difference between failing after putting in your best effort and simply being sloppy. The goal should be to learn from your failures so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again.

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 are superheroes with the skills and talents that mere mortals lack. We believe their success was predestined and built into their DNA. We say to ourselves, “Of course, they can do it, but I’m just a regular human being.”

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.

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 saw the messy reality behind the glamour, 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 interview successful authors, politicians, entrepreneurs, academics, and corporate executives willing to openly discuss their failures and what they learned from them.

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