Written by Vincent Li
The fact is that our successes are shared, while our failures are hidden from public. It leads people to think that successful people never fail, when in fact those failures are just not publicized. They might fail more than others, and maybe those successes would not be possible without those failures.
Starting with a Steve Jobs quote is as cliché as one gets but, sometimes clichés are clichés for good reasons. Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” I think that statement packs a lot of meaning about the nature of how hindsight along with retroactive narratives tend to smooth over the inevitable un-foreseeability and uncertainty of life as experienced.
With the confidence that only a 25-year-old can have, I would like to share the story of my dots, trying to reconstruct my path without the omniscient narrator voice that I now have the benefit of.
2011 – It is my senior of high school, I just submitted my application to NYU. I tell my friends that I look forward to studying economics. They ask if I applied to Stern. My response: “What’s Stern?”
2012 – I am accepted as an internal transfer into Stern after a year of finding out that CAS Economic Theory was a painfully difficult Math major disguised as an Economics major. I am happy over missing out on Micro, but upon finding out I could have avoided “Writing the Essay” by taking Commerce & Culture, I shake my fists at the sky in frustration.
2015 – I do not participate in OCR, thinking that I will go straight to law school instead of working, as had been my plan from before college. I am wrong. I miss my LSAT score targets and have to scramble to find a job after college. After sending out dozens of resumes, and without the benefit of OCR, I secure a job at NERA Economic Consulting in March of my senior year.
2016 – During my year of working, I apply to law school and secure admission to my top choices, including Harvard Law School, where my work experience very likely helped my application (80% of admitted students have at least one year of work experience).
2017 – At Harvard Law School, I receive the interview that will lead to my summer offer at a law firm largely because of the hiring partner’s good experiences and perceptions of NERA Economic Consulting.
With the power of hindsight, it is possible to say with relative certainty that short-term failures were actually necessary steps for success in the future. While it’s somewhat easy to talk about those professional failures in my life with a certain dashing carelessness (if I say so myself), at the time, each was experienced as a completely devastating setback, without any promise of future recovery. It’s only with hindsight that those setbacks were made “okay,” but by definition, at the time of those setbacks one does not have that hindsight.
There’s an interesting project by Professor Haushofer, who received some minor press a few years ago by putting up a CV of failures. The fact is that our successes are shared, while our failures are hidden from public. It leads people to think that successful people never fail, when in fact those failures are just not publicized. They might fail more than others, and maybe those successes would not be possible without those failures. While I hardly consider myself a successful person yet, and I am just one data point – I find deep truth in the words of the great philosopher, Mick Jagger – “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”