Coping with failure: F#$@upNights at Emory can help students become more resilient

By A. Hill, Contributing Writer, Campus Life | Emory Report | Sept. 3, 2019

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Spilling coffee can be aggravating, but students will hear about more serious mistakes—and lessons learned—from several professors such as Wesley Longhofer (left) and staff at F#$@upNights on Sept. 9. Photo by Tina Chang.

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Emory Campus Life

Professional and social failures have always been with us, although it’s a subject many people don’t like to discuss. That will change on Monday, Sept. 9, when several Emory faculty and staff share stories of their mistakes with students in hopes of encouraging them to learn lessons and keep moving forward.

The event, called F$#@upNights (or FUN), will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room 4 of the Emory Student Center.

Wesley Longhofer, an associate professor of organization and management at the Goizueta Business School and a faculty-in-residence at the university’s Woodruff Residential Center, is coordinating the event at Emory for the second consecutive year.

Part of his motivation is an experience from 17 years ago when he led three colleagues on a goodwill mission to Honduras to build a fence and paint a health clinic. The day they arrived, Longhofer broke the community’s only shovel.

“I remember flinging it to the ground and it snapped in half,” he says. “It was embarrassing and humiliating.”

Concrete pillars had to be constructed before a fence could be built. But neither Longhofer nor the other students knew how to build them. They soon learned they didn’t know how to build a fence, either. So, they decided to simply paint the clinic – until they went inside and discovered it was an empty shell of a building.

“We were building a fence around a building that was nearly vacant,” he says. “If we had done more background research, we would have found a better project that was actually going to be beneficial.” 

Longhofer counts that trip as one of his biggest mistakes. So big, in fact, that he shared the story with more than 70 Emory students last year during F#$@upNights.

An event built around failures

A group of friends kicked off the first F#$@upNights in Mexico in 2012 when they invited a handful of entrepreneurs to share their stories of professional failures with strangers. 

Today, the movement has gone global with events in more than 300 cities, 80 countries, and 30 languages. The organization has a research arm, the Global Failure Index, which develops and disseminates reports to businesses, academic institutions, think tanks, and scientists about the failures that entrepreneurs grapple with. City, company and academic chapters are open for membership.

F#$@upNights is valuable, advocates say, because the event helps students open up, communicate their feelings, and learn to become resilient when things don’t go as planned. Having professors share their big mistakes humanizes them and shows students how to turn an apparent failure into a positive learning experience. 

“Emory students are driven, high achievers, who are used to being the best. To get into Emory, they’ve likely lived a life of lots of successes,” said Lisa Coetzee, director of communications for the Office of Undergraduate Admission. “We want to make it more acceptable to talk about failure.”

Priyanka Desai, a business student and resident adviser in Raoul Hall, can relate. She encouraged some of the residents to join her for the 2018 F#$@upNights and was so impressed with the program that she’s taking students again this year.

“College can be an overwhelming time for students because they’re trying to make a good impression on everyone they’re meeting,” Desai said. “At the beginning of the year, it’s good for first-year students to see that their RA’s have made mistakes, and their professors have made mistakes, and it’s okay to talk about them.”

F#$@upNights at Emory will feature professors from the university’s business and nursing schools and Emory and Oxford colleges, in addition to the debate team coach. Their stories will be interspersed with roundtable discussions with students about resiliency and turning setbacks into opportunities for growth.

The event is free and open to all students at the university. RSVPs are encouraged. Learn more about the event and RSVP.