I once heard of a professor who frames his letters of rejection from academic journals, and hangs them on the wall of his office so that his PhD students and colleagues can see them. And apparently he has lots of them. The reason he does this is that he wants his students to see that although he is a successful and experienced academic, he still gets a lot of letters of rejection, and he doesn’t allow them to deter him from what he wants, and that is to keeping building his career and keep working as an academic.
Last week I received a negative response from a foundation that I had applied for funding from. This was funding I really wanted. It was for three-year postdoctoral research, and I submitted my application in September last year. Yes, it took seven months to find out I didn’t get the funding.
Now, this funding is very prestigious and hard to get, there is only about a 10% chance of getting it, so I knew that the odds were against me. But I still wanted it very much and I’m disappointed of course.
What do you do when things don’t go the way you hoped? That is, other than frame the letter of rejection and hang it on your wall? This was only my first application for this particular project – I still hope to get funding for my post-doc research project elsewhere – but it sort of woke me up to the fact that the next one may also fall through, and the one after that. So I had a mini existential crisis over the weekend, which I spent thinking about whether this way of life that I chose to opt in to, is really any way to live? I mean, no matter how inspirational that professor with his walls covered with letters of rejection is, being an academic and being faced with rejection so often really doesn’t seem like a lot of fun.
However, no matter how hard I think about it, I still can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing now. Well, for the time being at least, we all know that life changes, and situations, wants, and needs change. But I did realize one thing. I realized how quickly you get sucked in by the rules and structures of whatever world it is in which you live and work, despite being hell-bent on living and working on your own terms, terms that work for you and that reflect what it is that is important to you.
So what you do when hit with rejection and disappointing news is that you pause, think, and then you get up and you get on with your life and carry on with whatever it is you are doing.
I realized that I don’t need to wait around for someone to give me permission to start this post-doc research project. I can start now, small scale, and then expand my research project when I do have funding for it. Ironically, the main criticism I got from this foundation that doesn’t want to fund me, was that since men opting out is virtually a non-explored phenomenon, they aren’t convinced that it really is a phenomenon. In other words, since no one has researched it, they don’t feel convinced that there is anything to research. I obviously wasn’t clear enough in my research proposal, because although men haven’t been a part of the opting out debate, it does not mean that there is not ample research to argue that opting out indeed is a phenomenon that can also encompass men.
So that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to start small scale now, and gather some evidence, which will make future research proposals even stronger. And then I will be able to expand my study once I do have the funding.
So if you are a man who has opted out, or know of a man who has opted out who may be willing to be interviewed, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, I define opting out as leaving mainstream career models and expected ways of working in order to live and/or work on one’s own terms. This can be anything from quitting work altogether to doing the same kind of job but with a different mindset.
Or if you just want to share your opting out story or experiences with me, whether a man or a woman, I would love to hear from you.
All emails are of course confidential and will be treated as such.
So here I go, embarking on the exciting project of studying men and opting out, and exploring how that is similar to or different from women’s experiences. This is something I have been planning to do since I started working on my PhD in 2009, and I simply can’t wait to get started!