NPF: TAKE A LAP

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 27th, 2013 by Ed

A few weeks ago a successful political scientist wrote a blog post about the four-plus years and multiple rejections it took to get a single paper published. Academic publishing is hard. If you are not a person who handles (constant) rejection and (incessant) criticism reasonably well, this is not the right profession for you. This post appears to have done a lot of good, though. Many of my peers have been genuinely surprised to see that even the "stars" of the profession struggle and deal with loads of rejection.

It is surprising only inasmuch as the successes are public and the failures are not (I'm something of an outlier in my willingness to talk openly about getting rejected). Social media distorts our perspective on how well others are doing. We show the world pictures of our friends, not the time we spend alone on the couch. We post pictures of our vacations, not of us dragging ourselves out of bed at sunrise to drag ourselves to work in the rain. And we post things like "Woo! Just got a paper accepted!" but tend not to tell the world when we've been shot down.

This brings me, however circuitously, to the point. Do we use social media mostly to brag? Probably. And I'm a-ok with that.

My social circle is mostly academics, marginally employed creative types, and other types of people who are generally served more lemons than lemonade by life. Despite what the collages of smiling pictures we post on Facebook suggest, things aren't always great. For all of the rejection we deal with, I have no problem whatsoever with my friends doing some electronic bragging. If it took you five tries and three years to get a paper published, you've goddamn well earned the most trivial of victory laps. I understand why some people think this is tacky, but in my view life deals us enough downers that we deal with privately to justify a little glory-basking when things go well.

Not too long ago, one of my many academic friends got tenure. He announced it to the world on Facebook. A different person sent me a message to the effect of, "Isn't his bragging the worst? What a tool." It's not wrong to assume that Ed, The Guy Who Hates Everything, would sympathize. But here's the thing: getting tenure occupies a full decade of a person's life from ABD to Associate Prof. For all of the nights/weekends that person stayed in working while others went out, for all the sleepless nights and rejection and stress, they have more than earned the right to say "Hey, I made it" even if it is fishing for pats on the back. I'm happy for him. I want to know when things go well for him. I'll gladly dole out some back-pats.

Yes, if you gloat obnoxiously about every conceivable thing that goes right in your life, you probably need to tone that down a bit. The rest of us reserve our right to slap you if it comes to that. But there's no need to be shy about it when things go well. We're adults here. We understand that the mundane and the miserable take up a large enough share of life; when good things do happen we need to embrace them. Unless you happen to have a magically perfect life, you eat enough shitburgers to treat yourself to the occasional slice of cake.