On Rejection, the Myth of Meritocracy, and Baseball Bats
Musings and Strategies for Coping
I submitted applications for around 15 fellowships, awards, or other opportunities over the past year. The success rate for those applications is 0%.
Indeed, my CV of rejections is much longer than the one I present to the world. I’ve been rejected from hundreds of academic jobs, fellowships, grants, and awards thus far in my career. My writing has been given an “honorable mention” or a place on a top paper panel, but always remains a bridesmaid and never the bride. I’ve been waitlisted for a national fellowship, but never awarded one. I’ve been the runner-up in a job that I was heartbroken to lose.
When I was in graduate school, each denied fellowship or award and each nonresponse from a job application felt like a direct rejection of my worth as a scholar. Over time, my regular experience with rejection has faded from feeling like a gut punch to feeling like a sting. The phrase “we had many qualified candidates…” has become much easier to read now that I have largely detached my scholarly worth from external sources of validation.
However, my immune system starts to feel the strain after 15 stings in a short period of time. It's not any one of the individual "nos," but rather the sheer number of them. Mainly, it’s the realization that I have accomplished nothing from all that accumulated effort. I could have been doing other things with my time!
Today I’m offering some meditations on rejection along with a few antihistamines to reduce the swelling. I write to you from a place of rawness because I’m watching the bees fly away as I type. I hope that this vulnerability is comforting for you and cathartic for me.
Here it goes.