500 Words, Day 25 / by dan turner

A day after Ed at Gin&Tacos wrote about social media disproportionately being a place people brag, by intent or by accident, Katie Lane published "The Positive Power of Negativity", in which she makes the case that people need to talk more often, and publicly, about failure. ("We failed fast and got another $10 million in funding" doesn't count.)

Social media definitely encourages this behavior, or selects for it. People prefer to share happy news, and what doesn't get retweeted or liked gets pushed down; people may even "defriend" or "unfollow" (horrible neologisms of the social age) a negative poster. It's like dating or job interviews, where you can't say anything that's not glowing.

This is, in part, why I almost never go on Facebook. As at least one study has shown, such forced social comparison is likely to produce an envy response (PDF). I don't want that – I want my friends and associates to succeed big and have wonderful lives. So I withdrew.

Therefore, partly as a public service, and perhaps to start a collective trend, here are some big failures of my year so far:

  • 2013 started out a bit rough, with two accelerators, Matter.vc and The Foundry at CITRIS, turning down proposals for building a lab that'd bring together tech-challenged journalists and coders to jumpstart data-driven journalism projects. They asked how it would "scale", meaning spin off revenue generators.
  • Knight Stanford Fellowship: This one was particularly hard. It was the second time I made it to the final interview round, and this time I had what I thought was a particularly viable and apt project for the year of fellowship. (I have ideas why they didn't bite, but that's better discussed privately.)
  • Nieman-Berkman Fellowship: Again, I got great support for my proposed course of study, but no brass ring.
  • Mozilla: I was so psyched. They do great work, they're great people, and work for the public good. And I'd had I relevant experience around mobile internet usage in developing countries during my visiting researcher position at HIIT. There were two Interaction Designer listings that appeared on one day (marketplace, mobile OS) and I applied for both, so I admit I was never quite clear which job the phone screens were for and was too embarrassed to ask (a "Mulva" scenario).
  • OpenIDEO: This was an odd case, as one day an email appeared thanking me for my application. I had to dig in my Sent email folder to realize that I'd filled out an online application six weeks prior. Still, it was nice to let me know; many companies don't do that.
  • Internships: Well, I'm a "real person" now, what with a graduate degree and everything. 

There are others, of course; perhaps as a hangover from my freelance writing days, I try never to pass over any opportunity.

Granted, I've become better at presenting myself, and learned about my professional goals, but still, it's never easy. What have you learned?

And that's 500 words.