Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for some serious self-pity. But I think it’s at least thoughtful self-pity.
So I didn’t get The Job.
I was planning on stating that fact — or perhaps ignoring it altogether — and moving on with my blogging life. Discussing this particular rejection is painful. And I have to spend a lot energy reminding myself about the reality of not getting The Job, as there is some part of me that is still whirring full-speed, barreling ahead with the unstoppable gravity of job market stress. That part of me is unconvinced that all is lost. In my more rational moments, I am comforting myself by believing that the candidate the committee hired is probably qualified in ways that are just impossible for me to overcome. Tenure elsewhere already. Two books published. Ten years teaching experience. I don’t know if this is true, and it probably isn’t. It’s cold comfort, but it makes me feel less rejected and more justifiably overshadowed.
There are certainly valid reasons why I haven’t found a position, and very kind friends, family, and colleagues list them whenever I am ill-tempered and mopey. The market is bad. Departments have particular needs that I cannot know or understand. The market is flooded with newly minted PhDs like myself. But none of these reasons makes me feel any better when I’m putting on the brave face or the stiff upper lip or the positive attitude when I explain to everyone that no, I didn’t get the job. Second choice again.
But today, during my run, I realized that what really bothers me about yet another failed cycle on the academic job market isn’t so much losing this particular position. (Although, yowch — just typing it still hurts.) It’s more the fear that I am becoming some sort of ridiculous perpetual job-seeker, embarrassing both those around me and myself.
Where, I wonder, is the line? The line between resilience and ridiculous? How will I know when I’ve ceased being hard-working and disciplined and determined and have become, instead, a joke? It seems that there is some unspecified moment when I should give up to save a little dignity, but I have no idea when that moment is. Have I passed it already? Is this that moment?
No one really talks about this line, but I am convinced it exists.
Before I allowed myself to look at the MLA Job List last August, I told myself that This Is It. This is the last year I’m doing this. At the time, I was convinced that I would get a job this year, and that if I didn’t, I would be resignedly happy finding another path for myself. Three tries, about 90 job applications — that’s the definition of the old college try.
But then I didn’t get The Job and faced the reality of that promise to myself — the idea that I had tried, and that it hadn’t worked out. Existing in that space, where my chosen career was no longer an option, made me so much more miserable than the rejection alone. The only way to feel better was to give myself permission to try again next year, a decision that makes me simultaneously a little happier and a lot more miserable.
So who knows. Perhaps I am becoming that weirdo who can’t take the hint. And there is certainly a part of me that is ashamed of this dogged persistence in a market that doesn’t seem to want me. But, in the wise words of The Killers: when you can’t hang on — hang on.