It's easy enough to use a site like this one to only present my "best face" to the world. I could easily elect to only write about the successes, and act like I don't have bad days, or that things don't ever not go my way (coincidentally, I think this is a major cognitive bias of living in the digital world, where everyone is busy self-promoting their particular versions of themselves on all of the various platforms they are connected to). But I thought I might take a slightly different tack with this post, and write a bit about something that recently did not go my way, and why that's a good thing.
I did not get accepted to a doctoral program that I applied to. We don't need to discuss the specific program, but let's just say that it was hyper-competitive and that precious few folks are accepted every year. I knew going in that I didn't have a great shot, but I did my level best in the application, and I did better on my GRE's than I personally thought I was capable of (and considerably above the mean scores of the program's most recent cohort). So it was both not surprising that I didn't get accepted, and a bit disappointing (in the way that shutting down a fantasy future where one moves away to a brand new place and starts something brand new is always going to be disappointing). But after I realized that it wasn't going to happen, I was able to switch gears back to this actual life pretty quickly. On one level, that's because I know that the work that I did in preparing this doctoral application should serve me very well if I ever decide to apply to another doctoral program, or other opportunities more generally. On another level, it's because I am in the perfect place in my life to take risks on various futures.
In "So Good They Can't Ignore You", Cal Newport makes the point that many folks seem to go about the process of taking risks the wrong way. Instead of working to develop a skill set to the point where you become an obvious asset to any organization you want to be a part of (including the one you might currently be a part of) and then casting about for other interesting options than the ones you are engaged in, many folks seem to think that they should be able to move to new opportunities without first doing the work of developing their skills to the point where they are an obvious asset. This is pretty obviously not the way to do things if you want to have a successful outcome (or at least, it's obvious once someone points it out to you). I think my recent searching for new opportunities in my own professional life is illustrative of this point. After more than a decade of a very successful career teaching science in my current district, I've got a pretty obvious skill set that should make me very attractive as a candidate for a variety of new opportunities. But what's most important is that should I decide to pursue such opportunities as they become available, I won't have very much difficulty with the inevitable rejections that will come my way for the simple fact that the fallback position is to remain in my very successful career. It's an empowering kind of thing, and I'm glad to have this particular perspective, as I look at various options going forward.