A Chronology of My Failures


Johannes Haushofer, a Princeton professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, posted a CV of failures in an attempt to “balance the record” and “provide some perspective”. He was inspired by a 2010 Nature article by Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. She suggested that keeping a visible record of your rejected applications can help others to deal with setbacks.

Ironically, Haushofer has noted that, “this darn CV of failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.,” having been retweeted and liked more than a hundred times as users created their own #cvoffailures.

It sounded like a great idea, so I decided to put together my own list of failures. But rather than break them up into categories, I have listed them in chronological order.

Early childhood and high school years

  • had more errors than hits in three years of Little League baseball
  • tried out for football at 12 years old, only got in for last two plays of first game, saw writing on wall and quit
  • asked girl to junior prom, rejected, did not go
  • asked girl to senior prom, rejected, did not go
  • rejected by Johns Hopkins for college, my first choice

College years at East Stroudsburg

  • anchored the final 400 freestyle relay in swim meet against Clarion University (which had not lost a dual meet in seven years); got out-touched by two-tenths of a second and we ended up losing the meet as a result
  • on first date with my future wife, locked keys in car
  • rejected by Harvard School of Business for MBA program
  • rejected by the Wharton School for MBA program
  • tried to learn to drive stick-shift; backed up into somebody at red light on first trip out on highway

MBA years at Carnegie-Mellon

  • mailed almost 100 copies of my resume and cover letter for a summer internship; got less than five responses, and they were all rejections; ended up working as a bookkeeper for a small concrete contracting firm
  • same thing happens year later when applying for full-time jobs
  • rejected by KPMG after multiple interviews

PhD years at Drexel

  • applied for doctoral fellowship, rejected two years in a row
  • rejected by University of Delaware for full-time teaching position
  • rejected by Rutgers University for full=time teaching position

My “adult” years, personal and career failures

  • lost most of my $10,000 investment in a computer CD sales business (thank heaven for tax write-offs!)
  • total sales in three months as independent sales rep for Dorling-Kindersley books: $0.00
  • opened personal training studio, closed in less than four years due to mounting losses
  • bought timeshare in Poconos, enough said
  • went camping with family for first time; while setting up the screened-in porch ending up nailing the roof to the ground; group of guys at neighboring camp site offered to fix it for me; only cost me a few beers and my dignity
  • asked to be part of panel presentation to prospective Villanova students and their parents; tried to open with a couple of jokes, no one laughed, and it went downhill from there
  • asked to give a full-day (eight hours) executive education seminar at major firm; two hours into it everyone was bored to tears; never gave an exec ed seminar again
  • two-time finalist for university teaching award; lost both times
  • set a goal to run a three-hour marathon; time = 3:34
  • two-time finalist for college teaching award; lost both times
  • set a goal to row three hour marathon on erg; time = 3:13
  • finalist for university innovative teaching award; lost
  • applied to teach summer classes at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada; bought conversion van as part of plan to drive cross-country with family and visit all the sites out West en route to Lethbridge; class got canceled one week before shceduled departure; still have not visited those sites; stuck with van for several years
  • requested opportunity to teach semester abroad in London; denied
  • went to trim bottom of bathroom door after carpet was installed; an hour later, the gap was large enough for someone to crawl under
  • numerous academic articles rejected, and not even from prestigious journals
  • submitted two blog posts for consideration on Huffington Post; both rejected (actually, even worse, no response)

I could go on and on, but I think my wife may question why she married me 34 years ago.

At least I got that right…

*image from Scott Sandage’s “Born Losers: A History of Failure in America


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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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