Johannes Haushofer, a professor at Princeton, recently created a “CV of failure,” which listed some of failures of his academic career — programs he didn’t get into, jobs he didn’t get, and grant applications rejected.
It’s admirable for Haushofer to be open about his failures; it most assuredly creates a more realistic picture of success for people like Haushofer. But as others have pointed out, Haushofer can be open about his failures because he is successful. And like most other people, this success is likely a product of circumstance most of all — wealth, class, knowing powerful and influential people, having uncontroversial opinions, etc. — and possibly luck as well. Someone who is working class and who works at a low-wage job cannot afford to be open about their failures, lest they be branded a failure. Thus, there is danger in generalizing Haushofer’s lesson, since it does not apply to most people.
The other part of this conversation should hinge on what we should consider successful. Is being a professor at Princeton more important or worthwhile than working at a low-wage job? I’m not so sure, for a variety of reasons. So we should push back on that idea, which is embedded in Haushofer’s act. A career can also be a small part of life, and it certainty matters how someone lives their life, whether they are a professor or working at a low-wage job.
On this point, I’m reminded of a touching post in response to John Lewis’ comments about Bernie Sanders’ supposed absence from the civil rights movement. In attacking Sanders (and centering the frame of analysis around himself), Lewis also erased the contributions of thousands of people that did not accrue fame from that movement.
In short, I’d say that being a leader of a movement (or a professor at Princeton) does not necessarily make one’s contributions more valuable or important than the contributions of others who are less visible.