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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rejection Time

April is a happy time.  Not simply because the first rays of Spring sunshine are reflecting off my window, but because the gloomy clouds of rejection have floated by with the passing of the February/March submissions season.  Every year, I tell myself I am not going to let the rejections get to me.  Every year, it seems to turn out pretty well.  But, the process of daily rejection, of hourly email obsession, and general grumpiness are as regular as the seasons.

And maybe, just maybe, it is for the best.  Being a law professor is easily one of the best law jobs in existence.  The work is creative, meaningful, and exciting.  The job is respected and respectable.  Professors maintain a privileged autonomy and control that cannot be found in many professions.  With such an honored place in the world, one might imagine the temptations of egotism, arrogance, and elitism would corrupt us to become full of ourselves (I know…).

Which is why those first dings from 2Ls who have skimmed the abstract of a year and a half of exhaustive legal research are so important.  Those rejections remind us of the arbitrariness of life (and success).  They are humbling, random, and completely opaque.  Yet, those automatic pleasantries referencing the fact that “our article was not selected out of the 3000 articles they receive every year” teach a fundamental lesson:  life is unfair, unlucky, and life will continue if you persevere.

It is a lesson I think a lot about when I talk to students.  Why does one student get a clerkship and another does not?  Why does one get that Fellowship or dream job?  Life is not a meritocracy.  Sometimes the best student is recognized.  But, sometimes something else wins out.  Sometimes it is hustle, a well-placed phone call, or a quirky connection.  Sometimes it is just a bit of good luck.  But, through it all comes a good dose of regular rejection, and then carrying on.

So, I think there is a bit of justice in law professors spending a month facing daily rejection every year.   I think it is a good lesson in humility and resilience.  Sometimes all the work in the world results in a 7:00 am rejection (thank you Scholastica for providing the option of a fixed time for daily rejection… it helps me brace for the experience), and sometimes you meet your stated goal.  The lesson to be learned and later taught is how to face rejection and overcome.  How to look into the face of 29 of the top 30 journals rejection emails and say, “I only need one.”   

So, next time you check your email (four minutes after the last check) to see if anyone has emailed with an offer of publication and find nothing, or worse the dreaded “the journal has made a decision” email, remember that the world is filled with rejection, but the lesson we should be embracing and teaching is resilience.       

Posted by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson on April 12, 2016 at 01:56 PM | Permalink

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