Shouting “failure” isn’t great for selling ourselves – that goes without saying. But is it alright to brand yourself a failure in some things if you’re prepared to be a winner at others?
At a training course I attended this week at the LCMJ, one of the exercises was to create ‘our story in a nutshell’. Limit – 160 characters.
As this was being described, I thought immediately of my ‘From U to P’ article, which explains how I failed an A-Level paper on the poet Andrew Marvell and later completed a doctoral thesis on him.
I often gravitate towards failure. It’s relatively rare that I use it as a deflection towards success. But it did make me wonder if that can become a positive self-fashioning mechanism.
Self-deprecation can be witty. Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth, who describes writing as his “main gig”, concludes his profile with “outside of this I’m pretty useless”. (I’m not sure this is still live, but it’s the example we worked with.)
There are countless examples of modest deflection. By downplaying other skills, you’re attempting to make others recognise your competence in the one being promoted.
But too much self-deprecation is distinctly off-putting. If you go overboard with the ‘I suck’ or ‘I’m useless’ platitudes, people aren’t going to care about your abilities. The attitude has already bombed.
So, can you play with both extremes, I wondered. Can you, or should you, parry your failures to embrace success?
I came up with the following, which I quite liked:
Failed at school; Won at university. Failing academic; Winning marketeer. Failure at life; Winner at work!
It’s a similar ploy of accepting what you’re not good at, but showing that you’ve always gravitated towards something victorious.
I’m not out to sell myself, so this was only for the sake of an exercise. But rhetoric does count, and I’m encouraged that it’s got me thinking.