embrace the fail

Failure is an option. It is 100% normal to not achieve a goal or milestone. This page features non-success stories from people in our community whom you trust and admire.


“To be a scientist, even a scientist at Princeton, is to be a professional fail-er. Each step of the research process offers innumerable ways to fail, and I probably have experienced them all. Hypothesis is simply wrong? Yup. There is a fatal flaw in your study design? Yes. That was the story of my senior thesis, and my master’s thesis. Submit the write-up of what you think is a beautiful, groundbreaking set of studies for publication, and the manuscript gets rejected? That happened to me just last month. I keep at it because I love what I do. Trying to wrestle a big idea into a feasible, persuasive set of studies is fun. Looking at new data still gives me the same feeling as the big drop on a roller coaster. And intellectually tousling with an open-minded critic is like a rousing game of tennis, except that my abjectly poor hand-eye coordination isn’t a hindrance. Additionally, the thrill of success and deep disappointment of failure both eventually fade, but the lessons from trying accumulate. I feel myself become more intellectually nimble when pondering over backwards data leads to new understanding. The act of writing with my students both helps me clarify my thoughts, and teach those things that one can only learn by doing. And every new research effort helps me hone the line between listening to negative feedback and persevering because my gut tells me there is something there. As head of @MatheyCollege, I am especially proud of our #EmbracetheFail campaign, designed to normalize the experience of failure. The central thing I hope you take away from my words is the value of embracing the try. Find joy in what you do, do your best and keep learning. This has given me the fortitude to keep going, even when the road gets bumpy.”


— Stacey Sinclair, professor of psychology and public affairs and Head of Mathey College; Photo by Pellumb Reshidi, Mathey RGS.


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During my freshman year at Harvard, I was really interested in creative writing even though I was a political science major.  I had done a lot of independent writing in middle and high school, but wanted to become a lot better at it.  Admission to creative writing classes was selective, so I had to submit writing samples in order to apply.  That wasn’t a problem, since I had plenty of original stories to choose from!  Unfortunately, my writing ability and potential apparently wasn’t good enough.  Despite my enthusiasm, I was rejected from the class.  That was really disappointing, but at least I could try out for orchestra.  I had played violin since age 3, and had participated in orchestras in my hometown for most of my life.  My college had several orchestras; I decided to try out for the most casual, low-pressure one.  I fell on my face in the audition and was rejected from that too, ending my hopes of continuing orchestra in college.



When I was just starting my teaching career after completing my Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale, I applied for a position of Assistant Professor of Russian at Bryn Mawr.  I loved the idea of teaching at a college that was similar to my own undergraduate alma mater Vassar College.  More importantly at the time, my husband was teaching at Rutgers, Camden, so we were living in Philadelphia as we engaged in the two-academic family career juggling act.  A job at Bryn Mawr would put an end to the juggling.  I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WANTED THAT JOB.  A LOT.  BADLY.  Things looked rosy when I got a campus interview, which went very well and left me hopeful.  There was no e-mail back then, but there was plenty of compulsiveness.  I checked the mailbox as often as I would have checked my iPhone if those had been around.  The news finally came, only not in my mailbox, but at a major conference in my field, where I was delivering a paper, and where a very EX-boyfriend, who was some years ahead of me in the field, told me that I was a close second, but HE had the job.  He added that he could turn the job down, but that he would be an idiot to do that.  So I lived with that for a while.  Glumly.  Very glumly.  But other job openings appeared, and the sense of defeat gradually retreated.  I applied for a job at Princeton, and yes, I am writing this paragraph because it was a happy ending.  Now when I think back to the Bryn Mawr disaster, I realize that was one of the luckiest moments in my life.