A Princeton professor has posted his “CV of failures”—a résumé of jobs not won, awards not awarded, papers rejected. As it went viral, he added a “meta-failure”: “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”
Failure is in fashion. “Fail fast” is Silicon Valley’s motto, and failed startup founders readily share their lessons. Famous stars write of their early failures. A whole slew of TED talks celebrate the power of failure to get you to success. CEOs test prospective hires by asking how they failed. We’re told that secretly feeling like a failure, a.k.a. “imposter syndrome,” is a sign of greatness. Masters of the universe are out; vulnerability is in.
But these discussions of failure tend to come with a shallow moral: that after all the disappointment and heartache comes hard-earned success. The implication from CEOs and celebrities who boast of having been knocked down is that they eventually triumphed—and so can you! They use failure to burnish their success, to craft the story, to build the brand, to suggest empathy. Even that Princeton professor’s attempt at humility feels a little hollow when you look at his real résumé, a seven-page litany of publications, positions, and prestige.
We read about the failures that lead to victory. We don’t hear of the ones that end in defeat. They don’t fit our myths, our hero’s journeys. But that is how most of us mere mortals fail; without fanfare and without vindication. We try, fail, try again, fail again, grit our teeth, and move on. True vulnerability is admitting that you’ve failed, you’re still failing, and it hurts like hell. Being honest about this while you’re still in the thick of it is the real triumph. —Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The end of Apple’s exceptionalism? Mike Murphy charts the tech giant’s shocker earnings report—the one in which its revenue shrank for the first time in 51 quarters. The last time was around when Apple launched iTunes, and Amy Wang explores why the music portal is now so awful. And Jenni Avins’ quiz will have you furrowing your brow to tell the difference between Apple founder Steve Jobs and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
The enduring power of megacities. From Mexico City to Mumbai, the world’s biggest cities are much more permanent than many nations and wield the bulk of the economic and political clout. Parag Khanna argues that redrawing the map in terms of 40 metropolises instead of 200 countries would be a much better way of understanding the world we live in.
Flipkart’s misfortunes. The e-commerce firm was the darling of India’s startup scene, a leader in fundraising and job creation. But over time its mistakes have made it a different kind of case study, writes Itika Sharma Punit: a lesson in all the things not to do.
Coloring books are a cry for help. The craze for adult coloring books has single-handedly lifted both the print book and the pen and pencil industries. But it reflects, more than anything, the insane levels of stress that people—Americans particularly—are going through. Thu Huong-Ha explores the economics and psychology of the “mindfulness industrial complex.”
We should just let Google vote for us. Even if you search on Bing and don’t use Gmail, it’s a near certainty that Google can scrape enough information about you to determine which way you’re likely to vote. So why not just let it do the voting for you? Robert Epstein’s modest proposal is obviously not meant seriously, except… well, hm, why not?
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The curse of the potato? An ancient mystery is why early tuber-dependent civilizations (potato, cassava, manioc) didn’t become as complex as their grain-focused counterparts (wheat, millet, rice). Jeff Guo for Wonkblog reports on new economic research suggesting that the need to store grains after harvest—unlike tubers, which quickly rot when stored—led to the development of social hierarchies. Apparently, “you are what you eat” is true of societies too.
Maybe you just got lucky. Successful people (see above) often attribute their station in life to hard work rather than chance. But their success itself tends to blind them to the role that luck often plays, argues Robert Frank, in relating his own, life-changing, stroke of luck for The Atlantic.
The self-made rabbi of Medellín. File under “things you thought impossible until someone did them.” Graciela Mochkofsky in California Sunday tells the tale of the Colombian pastors who, by sheer grit and force of will, converted their Pentecostal congregation into a thriving community of Orthodox Jews. And it’s just one of dozens in a Jewish revival across Latin America, spurred partly by the decline of the Catholic Church.
How ISIL woos Western women. The jihadists need female recruits to help create an image of the caliphate as a welcoming paradise. So they subject women who express any kind of interest on social media to ”a kind of love bombing.” Kate Storey for Marie Claire offers an enlightening look at the Islamic State’s sophisticated propaganda and recruiting methods.
Your perceptions of reality are mere illusions. This isn’t a mantra from some self-satisfied guru or a philosopher’s conversational gambit; it’s a serious scientific theory. In a mind-bending interview in Quanta Magazine, Amanda Gefter gets cognitive scientist David Hoffman to lay out the case that all conscious animals evolved to reject the world as it is and embrace a perception of it that helps their genes succeed.
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