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A Failure Resume

written August 21, 2020 // 7 min read

Imposter Syndrome has been hitting really hard lately. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I don’t deserve a lot of my current accomplishments and that I need to work even harder just to feel like I deserve what I have right now. I came across the concept of a failure resume1 a while ago. It’s a list of things that didn’t exactly go according to plan, and the lessons learned.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that a failure resume is a great way to document all the spectacular ways you’ve worked hard towards your own goals and accomplishments. In some ways, it validates your struggle and your effort.

I’ve recently been inspired by both Kate Huang2 and Joice Tang’s3 failure resumes and decided to make my own. What I wanted to try with this failure resume is, rather than focusing on the individual failures themselves, note what I learned from each of them. Hopefully, it’ll serve as a powerful reminder to myself of how much I’ve struggled to get to where I am and why I deserve to be here. And more importantly, it serves as a place to reflect and learn from the past and be less scared of failure in the future.

A 2021 update: Keeping a failure resume has let me be so much more ambitious in trying new things and applying for things I would otherwise think I’m unqualified to apply for! I’m really glad I started this.

Now with all that stuff out of the way, here’s the juicy list you’ve been waiting for:


  • Stopped sending out newsletter issues :(( Ended up focusing more on longer form writing instead

    • I do want to revive it at one point but probably in a shorter-form musings things rather than a fully curated list of links and thoughts.
  • Ghosted by both Contrary Build and Contrary Fellowship

  • Couldn’t work up the courage to apply to the Maintainers Summer Fellowship

    • I really love the work that the Maintainers org is doing and this internship would have combined so many things that I’m interested in and passionate about: maintenance, writing, software, infrastructure, etc. I just couldn’t convince myself that I wouldn’t have made a fool of myself by applying :(
  • Had to cut out a bunch of commitments in order to maintain mental sanity

    • While this isn’t a ‘failure’ in the traditional sense, it was a failure for me in terms of setting good boundaries for myself. I had been spending way too much of my ‘free’ time working for projects and commitments I wasn’t 100% interested in. I missed being able to just dedicate an afternoon to tinkering and exploring an idea so I decided to make the leap and cut down on commitments. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.
  • Rejected from the Delta Fellowship

  • Rejected from ZFellows after they reached out to ‘learn more’ about my idea

  • Rejected from the Y. P. Heung Foundation Award

    • This scholarship is awarded to someone who demonstrates outstanding academic performance and is involved with community activities. I thought that, despite my slightly-above-average grades, I had a decent shot at this award given my involvement with the CS community at UBC but things didn’t turn out the way I wanted. This award would’ve helped alleviate the financial stress that comes with having to pay tuition out-of-pocket, so I’ll need to work a bit more for that money.


  • Rejected from an undergraduate TA position for a CS course

    • I really wanted to give TA-ing a shot, especially after hearing almost all friends' positive experiences with it, so I decided to apply to TA a class I had done well in. It was a good reality check to realize that there’s more to being a TA than just good grades and the title. Next time I apply, I’ll find a course that I’m really passionate about and get to know the prof better.
  • Didn’t finish 3 of the projects I wanted to finish over the summer

    • I think I really just tried to commit to too many things this summer and spread myself really thin — I’m still working on learning how to say no!
  • Ghosted by a professor for an undergrad research position

  • Rejected from a lot of grants and incubator programs for reflect

    • We took the shotgun approach by applying to as many grants as possible but ended up realizing that were just applying to grants for the sake of applying, rather than having a good reason for why. It was a really good catalyst to reflect (pun intended) on what we wanted reflect to be and what direction to take it in the future.
  • Rejected by DeepMind (and 67 of the 70 companies I applied to)

    • This position rejection hurt more than most — even if it was swift and abrupt. DeepMind is a company that has played a huge part in shaping my interest of the intersection of machine learning, ethics, and philosophy, so you can imagine that the rejection email was not a pleasant sight to see in my inbox.


  • Rejected by 46 of the 47 companies I applied to

  • Practiced data structures/algorithms for a few months only to completely blank on final round phone interviews

    • Though I agree that the technical interview process is broken, I think there are still some lessons that can be learned. I suck at thinking under pressure so I’m going to learn to improve this by trying to keep my practice environment as similar to the real thing as possible. In this case, doing mock interviews with friends rather than just blindly grinding away at LeetCode.
  • Got a 52% on an honours math midterm

    • It was an extremely difficult course but it really changed how I think about math and problem solving overall. I doubt I would’ve been able to learn those lessons in a regular math course. Even if the actual marks I got in the course were subpar at best, I think the lessons I learned were worth more than the GPA dent.
  • Rejected by Hack the North (despite being on their website ???)

    • Sometimes even when all the cards seem to be in your favour, things just don’t work out. There’s a factor of luck in everything — dont take things for granted!
  • Got charged an excess of $350CAD in cloud computing costs because of bad architectural decisions

    • Ouch, this one really hurt the wallet. Learn to estimate costs in advance, and don’t overengineer if you don’t need to! Keep it to the simplest and most minimal viable product possible until you’re ready to scale it. If it doesn’t need huge infrastructure, don’t design it that way!


  • Rejected by 16 of the 17 universities I applied to

    • This was a good reality check — the real world is difficult. Sometimes, what you offer may not be what the universities are looking for and thats ok! I think what matters more is what you do, not where you do it.
  • Rejected from a bunch of scholarships

  • Applied to speak at TEDxRedmond but got rejected at the last round

    • I ended up learning a lot about my topic (ethics in AI and machine learning) through preparing for my speech. Even if I never got the chance to actually go up on stage and see it, the subject still ocassionally comes up in conversation and makes a great talking point! I think its super important to be educated on this, especially as our world becomes increasingly dominated by AI and machine learning.
  • Gave up on my DroneNet project after running out of money to work on it and little to no progress for multiple months

    • This was my first real long term project and probably the project that got me really invested in the field of CS. I learned a lot about how to scope out and plan larger scale projects and how to stay motivated for long stretches of time.

  1. New York Times ↩︎

  2. Kat Huang’s ↩︎

  3. Joice Tang’s ↩︎

I'm always happy to have follow up conversations or hear your thoughts! Shoot me an email at j.zhao2k19@gmail.com or yell at me on Twitter.

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