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Professor's 'CV of Failures' may inspire your kids to fail

Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer posted his "CV of Failures" online and inspired thousands to look at failure differently.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

By anyone’s definition, Johannes Haushofer is a success: A graduate of Oxford University with PhDs from both Harvard and the University of Zurich, and a recipient of fellowships from both Harvard and MIT, Haushofer is now an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.

His highbrow academic pedigree is exactly what made it so remarkable that he decided to post a “CV of Failures” on his biographical page on the Princeton website, after finding inspiration in an article in Nature by University of Edinburgh lecturer Melanie I. Stefan.

Divided up into categories and sections with titles such as “Degree programs I did not get into,” “Awards and scholarships I did not get,” “Paper rejections from academic journals,” and “Research funding I did not get,” Haushofer details the missed opportunities and the times when his efforts somehow fell short. Under “Academic positions and fellowships I did not get,” he even gives a full, and somewhat painful, disclosure: “The list also shrouds the fact that I didn’t apply to most of the top economics departments (Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley, LSE) because one of my advisors felt they could not write a strong letter for them,” he wrote.

“This CV is unlikely to be complete — it was written from memory and probably omits a lot of stuff. So if it’s shorter than yours, it’s likely because you have better memory, or because you’re better at trying things than me,” Haushofer wrote in his introduction.

That emphasis on being better at trying things is one that Jessica Lahey, herself a teacher and author of the New York Times’ bestselling book The Gift of Failure, can support for students young and old. “I loved Johannes Haushofer’s piece because I believe it’s really important for adults to model these sorts of positive adaptations to failure for children,” she told TODAY Parents.

Lahey's book exhorts parents to let their children take risks and experience failure. Without learning how to recover from disappointment or falls, children might learn instead to avoid it by not taking chances — chances that could actually pay off in great success. High-achieving children, especially, sometimes choose to avoid challenging classes, competitions, or tests in which they might fall short for fear of what it might mean for their futures or their academic records.

Haushofer's "CV of Failures" seems to be proof that even someone at the pinnacle of academic achievement only gets there by challenging himself and sometimes failing in the process.

“We are, after all, their first and best teachers of how to be adults. Some of my most humiliating, horrifying, and devastating failures have also served as turning points in my life, experiences that were devastating at the time, but have, in the long run, become the growth experiences I’m most proud of,” said Lahey.

As for Haushofer, he has listed a new “failure” on his CV, categorized under “Meta-Failures” in 2016: “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”

TODAY Parents reached out to Haushofer for comment, but, well, he failed to respond.