Like many in academia, I’ve been trying to juggle career, marriage, and children, knowing full well that sacrifices have to be made.  Recently it seems, I’ve encountered a lot of profiles of highly successful people full of tips on what it takes to become successful like them: focus! cover your bases! enjoy the moment! plan for the long term! don’t listen to advice (except this advice)!  What?

It does seem that each person’s experiences are pretty unique and frequently not really that relevant to my own situation.  I’ve become interested in failure and the role of chance in career and life trajectories, as success and failure might be less under our control than we (and the highly successful) believe.  I’m hoping to bring a scientific viewpoint onto this topic, but in the end, there may not really be sufficient data to make this more than a collection of statistically unsupported anecdotes and observations.  I should have been an economist.

Thus, I hope this will not be one of those “neuroscientist provides opinions about things about which he has no real expertise but hopes you buy into because he’s a neuroscientist” projects.  The content should speak for itself and not rely on the alleged credibility of its creators.

It’s reassuring to me to consider the role of chance in our success/failure.  I’m also inspired by the stories of failure in otherwise successful people.  I’m not sure whether one can learn anything from others’ failures and their responses to them, but I certainly find the stories interesting.  We’ll see.


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