My most meaningful accomplishments are not always the ones on my CV. Remembering this helps me put any setback into perspective. Across professions, many deserving people are receiving challenging career and financial news due to COVID-19. These circumstances make it especially important to find ways to celebrate milestones of meaning and remember the purpose in our work.
In 2010, Melanie Stefan, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, published an article in the journal Nature about the importance of keeping a CV of failures. Stefan argued that keeping these CVs could help oneself and others deal with setbacks and learn from mistakes. After Princeton professor Johannes Haushaufer published his CV of failures in 2016, the idea went viral. Haushofer’s CV of failures includes Ph.D. programs he did not get into, awards and grants he did not receive, and academic positions he did not get. When profiled in The Guardian, Haushofer commented,”This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention that my entire body of academic work.”
In a culture of effortless perfection like Princeton (my beloved alma mater), Haushofer’s admission of his own failures was a brave act-and an inspiration. When surrounded by brilliant mentors and colleagues, CVs of failures remind us that success is earned, even for the superstars among us. Keeping a CV of failures can remind oneself and others to learn from mistakes and keep striving.
While I applaud the idea of a CV of failures, I’ve never made my own. It would be TL;DR for myself or anyone else. After evaluating my mistakes, I prefer to put my failures behind me rather than listing them. But Stefan’s idea inspired my annual ritual of a CV of Purpose.
My CV of Purpose lists accomplishments that don’t belong on a formal CV, but of which I am equally proud. It includes the serendipitous occurrences of professional life that remind me why I love what I do. It includes not just my achievements, but those of my students, in which I take as much pride as my own. In tough moments-whether professional setbacks or bureaucratic challenges, my CV of Purpose reminds me why I chose this career in the first place. Together with my box of thank-you notes from former students, it reminds me to leave frustrations behind and focus on the higher purpose in what I do.
My CV of Purpose this year includes:
· Being trusted by my superiors and colleagues to help write a doctrinal publication on ethics for the entire Marine Corps.
· Receiving a note from a former student-in response to one of my LinkedIn videos-letting me know that my work influences his on a daily basis.
· Having an icon in my field call me a “person of substance” and reach out to have lunch with me at a conference just to catch up.
· Providing a student with a tremendous professional opportunity at an early stage in her career, and watching her thrive.
· Being told by a mentor that my work reminds him why he loves our country.
· Standing up to senior military officers in a situation when I would have felt uncomfortable doing so in the past-because it was the right thing to do.
· Teaching a broad audience of people about my intellectual passions via social media, receiving more interest than expected, and being thanked for it in real life.
· Mentoring female servicemembers and watching them lead and thrive in their careers. These students are my heroes-and I’m honored when they tell me that they look up to me.
· Having a former student for whom I wrote a recommendation letter be accepted to his top choice law school.
· Having a senior academic in my field pull me aside at a conference to tell me that she always reads my articles, regardless of topic, because she knows they will be good.
· Having former students drop by my office.
· Laughing with colleagues to push through challenging moments.
Each Spring, making my CV of Purpose reminds me why I choose to do what I do. These accomplishments and acts of kindness-usually those of others-mean more to me than many lines I will add to my formal CV. The CV of Purpose helps me forge through uncertainty and accept and move past disappointing outcomes. It reminds me to be grateful and to thank those who have supported me along my career path.
Most importantly, my CV of Purpose reminds me to pay kindness forward. Due to COVID-19, deserving people in any organization-whether colleagues, students, or superiors-will not receive the public recognition they deserve or expected as celebrations, ceremonies, and graduations are canceled. As a professor and a leader, it is my responsibility to make sure their contributions-large and small-are meaningfully recognized.
In the coming months, our society will restructure, pivot, and quite literally reemerge from the effects of this global pandemic. As we do the same individually, we must remember the purpose behind our professional choices. Remembering our purpose-whether through a CV of Purpose or another ritual-can help us move forward.
(The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect those of her University, the Department of Defense, or any part of the US government)
(cross-posted on Balkinization)