I am, to those who know me most, no stranger to the topic of rejection. Both my personal and professional lives have been littered with knock-backs and dismissals.
This is hardly a sob-story (quite frankly, I hate those). I have, of course, had more than my fair share of successes, too – in both aspects of my life.
But it’s the failures that stick in the mind longer, and are raised to the surface more readily. Depression, it seems, is a fertile soil for these disruptive roots to grow.
I woke up this morning to an email. It sat there in my phone notifications impatiently, waiting to be read.
Does anyone else do that thing where they can’t bear to open the full message, so they pull down the tab to scan the first few lines for a clue?
Yup. There it was: “thank-you”, and then a couple of lines down, “unfortunately”. I slumped my head back into my pillow. It was another couple of hours before I actually read the rest of the email. The article abstract that me and a fellow PhD student had submitted to a journal had been rejected. By both reviewers, too.
The thoughts that came to me for the rest of the morning were unpleasant to say the least. The dreaded internal monologue: “I’m not good enough”, “I’m never going to make a go of this”, “I should just quit right now”.
In my earnestness to distract my mind (which had by this point set my teeth to ‘grind’, my body to ‘tense’ and my outlook to ‘grey’) I stepped into the shower – not before noticing how my body somehow looked worse in the mirror than it did last night – and played my latest audio-book through my phone speaker.
It seemed fitting to start reading Bernie Sanders’ ‘Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In’ this week. After all, it was published in the wake of Sanders’ impressive (albeit failed) campaign to become the Democratic Nominee for US President in 2016; after punching above the odds yet again, his 2020 campaign seems to have fallen short once more.
Please, even if you’re apolitical – if such a thing even exists – just bear with me here. There is a link to be made, and it isn’t a political one.
I had never heard of ‘Bernie’ until the Durham Miners’ Gala of 2016. American politics can seem like a distant and irrelevant world to a young 20-something lad in the North of England. And yet, there was my dear friend Coco, a Durham Uni Master’s student (and my tour guide for the day), proudly wearing a badge with his name on her bag.
Before I started reading the book, what I found most surprising about Bernie Sanders was his ability, as a progressive (and as an ‘Independent’), to emerge in America as one of the most popular (not populist) politicians of his time.
What I find most impressive about the man is his ability to take defeat in his stride. He speaks about 2016 not as a ‘loser’, but as someone who was able to influence both the Democratic Party, and the race itself (again, not as a ‘Democrat’, but as an ‘Independent’).
Then, he speaks about his earlier political career, back in the 1970s. The guy lost four elections in Vermont – two for Governor, two for Senator – not once registering more than 6% of the vote. He still spoke of the little victories that each campaign brought; if not to himself, then to the broader political sphere.
He would win his first campaign in 1981, a whole nine years after his first run for office.
Now, I don’t care if you’re for or against Sanders’ brand of politics. That’s a discussion to be had another time. What I’m trying to emphasise here is how, by looking at a so-called ‘failure’ in a different way, there are little victories to be found, hiding beneath the grey surface of rejection.
I began to reflect on my own failing, and putting that, as Sanders’ does with his own, into a broader context. I haven’t even mentioned yet that this was my first ever attempt to submit an article to an academic journal. In many ways, having the audacity – no, the ambition – to submit our idea in the first place was an achievement in and of itself.
Then, there’s the actual feedback. And, well, once the initial drop of the “unfortunately email” subsided, the feedback itself was actually…well…sort of, okay!
There was none of this Reviewer 2 nonsense that I often read about online (although anyone who has come across the wickedness of Reviewer 2 will surely enjoy this wonderful Facebook page). There was one key issue that the paper was unanimously rejected on, and whilst we both might disagree with it to some extent, it was a legitimate claim.
Fortunately, my prospective co-author has submitted articles before (and has had success in her efforts), so I have an experienced ally to debrief with, as well as a supportive friend, too.
That’s the other thing about rejection, too: it’s an opinion. Sure, it might be an educated one;
although, after the election of a bigot to the White House, and an outright racist to No. 10 Downing Street, I’m obviously sceptical…
But the beauty of an opinion is that it’s there to be challenged, even when it comes from an institution bigger than ourselves. After all, no matter how big or prestigious that institution may be, it’s still people that run it.
Now, I don’t have control over other people’s opinions. I do, however, have control over my own. And I’m happy to say that, over the course of writing this blog post, my outlook on this latest rejection has become a little bit brighter. The title I was earlier working with was “Coping with Rejection”. “Thriving” now seems like a better fit.
Rather than dwelling on this failure for longer than is necessary, I’m already starting to think of the next challenge, and how I might do a little bit better next time around.
As for politics?
In the words of Gil Scott-Heron: “Mandate, my ass”.