Dealing with Failure

Roel M. Hogervorst

2020/07/24

A month ago I applied for my dream job; Research Software Engineer, a job where I apply my software engineering skills in R and python on code projects at a university. It would be doing good for the world and working with smart people on cool diverse projects. I wrote a beautiful motivational letter, updated my cv to highlight all my skills and prepped for many questions and I was invited for a first talk! And the conversation went really well, the interviewers and me had a connection and many similar thoughts about the work and goals. I fully expected to be invited for a second talk.

I was not however.

cracked wall picture that looks like crying face

I did manage to talk to one of the interviewers and figure out why they didn’t invite me back. It was mostly random change (many applicants), and they made some assumptions about me that were not true. I was really really disappointed. There are not many jobs like this and so I really wanted to get in.

So tis post deals with the question ‘how to deal with this feeling of failure and disappointment’. I think this falls into the Stoic idea of ‘dichotomy of control’: Some things are under our control, others are not. I have been reading ‘How to be a Stoic’ by Massimo Pigliucci and he makes a beautiful description of that concept. He explains that you should expand that idea of control in time as well. Yes there are things you can control right now, and most things right now are out of your control but preparing and planning are things you can do! You can select the best captain, the best ship and crew but during the voyage you are but a passenger on the vessel. The only thing you have is the knowledge you prepared well enough, whatever happens next, happens.

And that is how I have come to view this (relatively small) event now. I did the best I could. I prepared for the interview, I answered all questions, I gave it my best. My goal was clear and in my control. The outcome was not in my control.

The universe does not bow to your wishes, it does what it does

And the reality is that other people are the universe. And so I am at peace with the situation, and I do not regret applying at all. That would be ‘resulting’, equating the merit of the choice by its outcome. And ‘regret is a waste of emotional energy’ (Epictetus). And so I transform this event into a useful experience that teaches me lessons.

See also

I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com, post - 21/100

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Pigliucci, Massimo. How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash