Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Sweet Scent of Failure

I've heard many claim that social media posts are overly rosy compared to reality: we post the best pictures of ourselves, highlight our successes, etc. and omit the ugly, boring, and the failures. I'm certainly guilty of this. 

Well today I'm going one step in the opposite direction by listing eight of my material failures! These are things I tried quite hard to achieve or change, and mostly missed the mark. 

Promotion at work

It's been 7 years since I was last promoted, and it's not for lack of effort. I've done a number of things to uplevel my skills, showcase my work, and maximize my impact, all to no avail. For various reasons, I've now been passed up on three distinct occasions where I tried to bag that coveted promo. 

Freeing BYU

I've been writing about the lack of religious and academic freedom at BYU for a decade now. For five years between 2013 and 2017, I actively led FreeBYU in efforts to reform the BYU honor codes (I've been partially active in that endeavor since). Yes, we've had a number of wins during that time, including honor code change in 2015. However, in practice, it's still the case that LDS BYU students who leave Mormonism risk expulsion, eviction, and termination.

Bar prep course at law school

I poured dozens of hours into researching, writing, and advocating for BYU Law to add a bar prep course offering. (In a nutshell, the reasoning is that students have to more or less pay a second tuition at a second law school called "bar prep" in order to gain the credentials needed to work in their field. Given the consensus in the literature that the third year of law school is largely worthless and that law school is overpriced, adding a bar prep offering provides a student-friendly option for getting to the point of practicing law sooner and less indebted). How did it turn out? Yeah, nah

Change laptop policy in the MPA program

When I was in grad school in the Marriott School, they had a policy against using laptops for “non classroom purposes” during class. I contested the policy, pointing out the opportunity and other costs it imposed on students. My documents and pitches came to naught. 

Advancing governance equality in Mormonism

The vast majority of hierarchical roles in LDS structures are occupied by men rather than women. I wrote a book and gave a number of presentations and other pieces of activism advocating for eliminating sex-based barriers in these power structures. I haven't seen evidence that these efforts moved the needle at all. 

Getting a profitable job that leveraged my law degree

After graduating law school, I searched for months for a job where I could use either my skills or the JD credential to land gainful employment. I came up blank, eventually landing a law job that paid so poorly I couldn't afford rent. 

When I then switched fields to HR, my license to practice law proved an impediment to converting to full-time due to the HR head's belief that I was a flight risk ("why would he stay here when he could earn twice as much practicing law")? These were two of the payoffs for the four years of expense, effort, and opportunity cost I spent on getting licensed to practice law. 

Normalizing homosexuality in Mormonism

When I wrote my book, I naively thought my research and writing would help change minds and practices. "Look at this flaw I found that's needlessly and substantially and predictably harming tens of thousands of people, surely those in power will change course once they see!" 

My book did influence a few dozen people, and those impacts are quite meaningful to me. However, the primary drivers of LGBT animus and rejection of gay families in that community persisted regardless.


For a couple years I dedicated much discretionary time to building a product that leveraged the simplicity of pairwise comparisons and the math of elo ratings (used to rank players in chess, for instance).  I planned early applications in providing extremely good recommendations on what book to read, or what movie to watch, next. I eventually decided that it was taking too large a share of my non-work time and money to advance and pulled the plug. 

I haven't given up on the dream, but with parenting duties and other drags the Stackranker ambition's near-term chances are dim indeed. 

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