I moved office today, which makes it the perfect time to consider what I want to display on the walls. Nick Hopwood’s recent blog post on his wall of rejections (complete with thumbs up photo) has been popular. He writes:
There is a pedagogy here – not only normalising rejection, but also potentially modelling ways to deal with it. I’m no masochist. I don’t find rejection fun. I fear rejection. Of course I do. Everything I’ve had rejected has mattered to me, reflected hours of work and emotional input. But I don’t let fear of rejection stop me from trying in the first place. And I don’t let the experience of rejection prevent me from keeping going.
Academics are high achievers and academia celebrates achievement on a daily basis. I can see why Nick’s wall of rejections, his shadow CV, and the CV of failures I blogged about previously have been shared so much. There’s something wonderfully affirming about knowing that successful people fail a lot.
But I won’t be creating a rejection wall any time soon.
A few reasons: I don’t need a reminder that my work is not (I am not) good enough. Success already feels precarious to me. I don’t display my successes in my office either. Some of my achievements feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t particularly proud of my PhD as a product, for example. I was proud of the process — it felt hard-won — but the thesis itself was just good enough.
For pathos, I took this photo of a wall of forgotten PhDs in a room up the corridor that I found when exploring my new digs.
A wall of rejection doesn’t affirm the decision I have made to work part-time and to value slow academia. That entails not only the stalled progress of rejections, but a lot of work that is never-submitted, half-done but put aside, and nice-ideas-for-sometime-later.
A few things have helped clarify my thinking about rejection and failure. I read this excellent article by Michelle Jamieson on Sitting with Failure:
As I see it, there are two important lessons that we can learn from failure: how to fix the mistake or problem (which is the one people typically focus on), and how to sit with or attend the experience of failure itself and our aversion to it.
I also read the How I Fail interview series and the blog Tenure Denied: A story of failure. I love that work like this is attending to the experience of failure in academia. But I’m not ready for rejection wallpaper. Here is how I have chosen to decorate my office – with a Doctor of Thinkology sign and a Rosie the Riveter action figure. We can do it!