This is my failure résumé: a list of my failures and what I’ve learned from them. Credit goes to Melanie Stefan for the idea, Johanes Haushofer for popularizing it, and Tina Seelig/Dan Pink for bringing it to my attention.

Academic Failures

College classes I bombed:

  • 2005: Liberal Arts and Sciences Calculus (D)
  • 2006: British Romantic Literature (F)
  • 2006: Form and Analysis (F)
  • 2007: Basic Statistics (D)

What I learned: If you don’t understand something, ask for help. People want to help. Being “bad at math” doesn’t mean you can’t improve, and being “good at English” doesn’t mean you can coast. And when all else fails, there’s no shame in dropping a class.

Degree programs I didn’t get into:

  • 2009: DM in Trumpet Performance, Florida State University
  • 2009: DMA in Trumpet Performance, University of Cincinnati – College-Conservatory of Music

What I learned: Sometimes, you’re just not ready yet.

Career Failures

Jobs I did not get:

  • 2012: Barista, Starbucks
  • 2012: Admissions counselor, Truman State University
  • 2017: Academic coordinator, [major R-1 university]

What I learned: You won’t always get an interview. And when you do, and the interviewer asks you, “Do you have any questions for me?”, have some. Even at Starbucks. And even after a good interview, another applicant may just be a better fit.

On-the-job failures (selected from a much larger pool):

  • 2012-2013: In an advising meeting, told a freshman his business minor didn’t require a calculus course. He was excited. I was wrong. He was sad.
  • 2012-2013: In an advising meeting, told a freshman his chemistry major didn’t require Calc III. He was skeptical. “I’ll eat my hat,” I said. I was wrong. He was mad.

What I learned: In academic advising, there is no room for guessing. It’s not about looking smart in front of your students, and it’s not about you. When in doubt, look it up.

Personal Failures

  • 2003-2006: Gained 50 pounds.
  • 2003-2011: Amassed $50,000 in student loan debt
  • 2014: After a series of lip injuries derailed my trumpet career in 2010, I attempted one more round of DMA (doctoral) auditions. Despite extreme care, the chops didn’t hold up.

What I learned: Man cannot live on Reese’s Puffs and Chewy Chips Ahoy alone. Student loan money is not Monopoly money. There’s always another path forward.


  • Most of these failures are from 2013 or earlier, which means I haven’t been failing enough lately. Time to fix that.

Last update was 8/4/17