A CV of Failures: The Key to My Success

A CV of Failures: The Key to My Success | Happyliving.com“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
(Helen Keller)

Johannes Haushofer, a Princeton professor, wrote his “CV of Failures” a few years ago. It was originally intended only for his students, but in April of 2016 he decided to put the document online, in the hopes of helping a broader audience to realize that we all experience failure on the way to success.

Many books have been written about the traits of successful people, and just as many on how to be successful. However, studies have shown that simply taking certain actions, or following this or that prescribed formula, is not in itself a guarantee of success. The real key to success is resilience. If you inspect Haushofer’s CV of Failures you will see relentless resilience running right through it. That resilience has been my key to success as well.

In fact, I was so inspired that I have created my own CV of Failures:

Thomas A. Sult, MD

CV of Failures:

  • First day of kindergarten was my birthday. That was the day I decided I hated school.
Could not read in the third grade. Was put in special reading class.
  • On second attempt at third grade I was moved to a special school and in a class for “minimal brain dysfunction” (now called dyslexia).
  • Teased and bullied in school because of being “stupid”.
  • Loner in high school, trying not to be noticed.
  • In junior college I was told by a counselor that “medical school was an unrealistic goal”.
  • Lived in a bike locker to reduce expenses while working my way through college.
  • Applied to 42 US medical schools, but didn’t get a single interview.
  • Applied to several acupuncture schools, and was accepted by one… which went bankrupt.
  • Accepted at St. George’s University School of Medicine, Grenada in the West Indies … which then closed (following the invasion of Grenada by the US) until unrest settled.
  • Accepted Merced Family Medicine Residency and was voted best resident teacher … but did not get a job offer from the residency, while the two other candidates did.
  • Attempted to join a group practice in town and was rejected.
  • Opened a private practice just as the economy was crashing in a major resort community, forcing a move from Lake Tahoe, California to rural Minnesota.
  • Fired from a hospital job because of interest in holistic medicine.

Wow! What a bumpy ride! If you read the lines it sounds like an epic catalogue of failures. However, if you read between the lines you see resilience. At each stage in my life, I was focused on the positive, and on the possibilities. I love my small rural town in Minnesota (which is also my wife’s  home town), and I have a wonderful family, great friends and a rewarding career at my own private practice.

At my tertiary care Functional Medicine practice I see patients from multiple countries, and all 50 US states, and I lecture all over the world, teaching Functional Medicine to doctors and other health care providers. I learn more about resilience every day, from my patients who are battling crippling, devastating, life-altering chronic disease. And this is what I know: Resilience will carry you through. Whether you’re trying to overcome a stressful work environment, a negative attitude, or a chronic health condition: In order to find happy living, resilience is a key component.

The way I look at it, specific goals should be like landmarks, rather than destinations. Viewed like that, they become positive tools to help you stay on your path, and to create new ways forward if the route you were taking gets blocked. In the military they call this broader perspective the “commander’s intent”. This means that you may have a specific goal but, as “the plan rarely survives contact with the enemy”, you have to respond to the situation as it unfolds. This involves making new plans and adaptations “on the ground” in the face of specific failures, with the broad aim, or “commander’s intent”, constantly in mind. For example, while I didn’t achieve my specific goal of becoming a medical residency professor, my “commanders intent” has always been to have a wonderful family, fantastic friends and a rewarding career. Through various twists and turns, I have led a “charmed life” and achieved my intent. So, from a broader perspective, it all turned out “as planned”  and the specific goals along the way acted as landmarks to get me here.

Going back to my CV of Failures for a moment: There was a time when I was ashamed of repeating 3rd grade, being the slowest reader in high school, being told that medical school was an unrealistic goal and going to a foreign medical school.  Now they are my badges of honor.  To be successful you must overcome adversity. My goal was to be a residency professor, and I failed.  I could have let that define me. I choose instead to be proud of my failures, and the path they laid out for me. So, from this day forward, I would whole-heartedly encourage you to be proud of yours too.

As a closing thought, here is Michael Jordan’s take on it.

Tom Sult, MD

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