Rejections and failures

I don’t think we talk about two things that are a constant in academia regardless of career stage: rejection and failure.

If you go to my CV page, you can see my list of publications. I have two monographs, a list of articles, and various funding successes. You can also see the positions that I have had.

What you don’t see are all the rejections. Rejections for jobs, rejections for funding, rejections for articles. I see them. In the white spaces.

For every job on my CV, I see the rejection letters, some mercifully quick, some hanging around until the last moment. Some that didn’t even come at all. I also see the jobs I started applying for but didn’t have the time or the energy to complete. Or the jobs I psyched myself out of.

For every funding application, I see the failure of trying to get people together to start a research group. I see the weeks spent trying to make sense of guidelines to make sure it’s what the readers will want. I see the rejection emails. I see the impact my disappointment had on those around me. Again, I see the funding ideas I psyched myself out of.

For every article published I see the rejections. Some by editors. Some by reviewers. Most by reviewer 2(!) I see articles that I re-worked and re-submitted. I also see articles that I just binned forever (looking at you Franzen!)

And rejections hurt. Here is a nice quote from a recent The Atlantic article by Rhaina Cohen:

Rhaina Cohen, “A Toast to all the Rejects,” The Atlantic

This post is inspired by a rejection email I received yesterday from a well known Irish poetry journal. I didn’t expect my work to be accepted, primarily as all my poetry submissions up to now have been rejected. But the rejection email itself spooked me. I couldn’t and still can’t make out if it is automated or authentic. The email was complimentary, as rejection correspondence sometimes can be, but it seemed more personal. I’m just not sure. I suppose this is all coming from the fact that they told me that my poem was nearly selected for publication and they referred to me as “a superb poet”. I’m not sure that’s true at all(!) So perhaps it is a template rejection email. But then would it not be somewhat irresponsible to be telling all rejectees how wonderful they are?

I think the key takeaway from dealing with rejection and failure is exactly that: how you deal with the rejection or failure. I have gone down both roads – self-doubt and self-criticism to the point of feeling unable to do anything for weeks or months; or, the opposite, feeling driven to prove that I can do this and I will do it (and sometimes I do succeed and sometimes I don’t). Neither path is right or wrong as they are both natural reactions. But the key is to recognise them as a natural reaction and to work with them accordingly. And then to move past them and beyond them.

If you are interested in reading more, this post makes me think of JOHANNES HAUSHOFER who posted his CV of failures back in 2016. You can see it here. He gives credit to Melanie I. Stefan and there are also other examples out there.

A more recent article in The Atlantic by Rhaina Cohen titled “A Toast to all the Rejects” is also worth a look. (If it is behind a paywall just disable javascript, reload the page, and it will appear in full. Remember to enable javascript after you are finished!)