Thoughts on Failure
So in the wee hours of this morning, after weeks of waiting, after spending one entire week in early April devoting every waking hour to writing a one-page abstract that could literally change the course of my life, after asking three excellent colleagues at the University of Tennessee College of Law to review and give me their candid feedback so I could send in my very best work . . . after all of that effort, and hope, and waiting, and hope, and prayer, and hope, and thinking maybe I AM GOOD ENOUGH to publish something that truly matters in an internationally-acclaimed publication, after all of that anguish and hope, I got this:
---------- Forwarded message ---------- From: Animal Law & Policy Program <email@example.com> Date: Saturday, May 21, 2016 Subject: Harvard AWA at Fifty Workshop To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Dear Esther Lois,
Thank you very much for your submission to the Harvard Animal Welfare Act at Fifty Workshop & Conference.
We received a tremendous number of very qualified submissions that covered a vast array of thought-provoking topics. Out of those myriad subjects, a handful of substantive areas emerged that made the most sense to organize the workshop and conference around. This meant that only a very small number of papers ended up fitting the format. Regretfully your submission was not one we could accommodate.
While the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Program is still in its very first year, we do envision this event being one of many Workshops and Conferences to come. Accordingly we will add you to our mailing list to keep you informed of other such opportunities as they arise.
Thank you again for taking the time to submit your scholarship for consideration.
Chris Green (Executive Director)
Prof. Kristen Stilt, (Workshop co-organizer)
Delci Winders, Animal Law & Policy Fellow (Workshop co-organizer)
On the one hand, being rejected by Harvard should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, I'm just a regular person, not a legacy ivy-league scholar. I'm a nobody. RIght?
Yet, on the other hand, the idea of having such an opportunity denied to me seems impossible to digest. It wasn't that I wanted fame and glory. My abstract focused on four areas of equine abuse - soring of the Tennessee Walking Horse, slaughter of the thousands of unwanted horses due to overbreeding, Premarin mares, and nurse mare foals - and the horses need a platform like Harvard to leverage the changes they so deserve. And I wrote an awesome abstract, full of scholarly phrases and polished academic terms, and the paper I will eventually write will shed some much-needed light on the plight of America's horses.
But here, in this conversational format where I just write as I think and don't bother editing, here at 4 a.m. with no one to talk to but a big orange cat named Gideon, here I need to process through how this rejection notice makes me feel. Tomorrow is a brand new day full of people and schedules that need Esther at 100% and then some, so I have no time to react, no time to reflect, no time to feel pain or hurt or try to heal, outside of these few hours right here, right now.
What DO I feel, exactly? Grief at a lost opportunity to have the platform the horses of this country both need and deserve. Sadness at the lost opportunity for my own life; publishing at Harvard would open many, many doors for me in the field of law. NOT publishing at Harvard, well, that merely confirms the suspicions of my worst detractors and nay-sayers. Those who secretly smile at my every failure and snicker, "she's so stupid she doesn't even realize she does NOT have what it takes to play in the big leagues. Who the HELL does she think she IS, anyway? Bless her heart."
Uppity hillbilly - that's me. Who am I to think I could possibly be more than average? What outrageous narcissistic arrogance, to allow the fire and fuel of creativity and advocacy burn so brightly within my innermost self as to think I might have something unique to share with the world?
How I hate these words. I do not want to be average. I do not want to live a mundane life. I do not want to settle for mediocrity.
And yet, at moments like this, the notion of settling is so enticing, I find myself wanting to yield. If I could just turn off whatever it is within me that drives me to consider the possibilities of greatness, my life would be so much easier. There would be no insane schedule as I try to juggle earning a living and building a life and bringing my soul to maximum fruition. If I could just commit suicide of the soul and SETTLE, everything would be so simple.
Why can't I just accept the mundane life of average? Average lawyer is still pretty good, right? Average size is not too terrible, right?
Why have I always felt so DIFFERENT? What is the source of this voice that screams constantly within my core being, "YOU WERE BORN FOR MORE THAN THIS!!!"
Why isn't good enough ever good enough?
I know the vast majority of humans on this planet would read this rambling narrative of mine and have no clue what I am talking about.
There are those one or two out of every thousand, or every hundred thousand, or maybe one in a million, who might possibly read this and realize they are NOT alone in the creative madness that wrestles their own inner peace away, day after day, year after year, taunting them with the notion that their own uniqueness is an inspiration that must be shared.
My friend Sarah is one of those people. Sarah, like me, was born and raised in the averageness of East Tennessee. Sarah, like me, is a very bright Southern lady. Sarah, like me, has a cauldron of unending creativity inside her spirit; Sarah's internal flame of creativity makes her a fine scholar and violinist and computer whiz and diplomat and a wonderfully quirky fun young woman who is fearlessly spending this summer in a volatile foreign land for a very not-average purpose.
So, if I were talking with Sarah right this moment, what would I try to convey to her? Is there anything positive to take away from this searing defeat of a Harvard rejection? Perhaps by trying to turn this feeling of failure into a teaching moment, I can achieve some cathartic balance in my own battle-weary soul. Heal myself while helping others.
Well, Sarah-and-anyone-else-who-might-read-this, I guess the takeaway lesson for my failure with Harvard is that life is not about failure. Life is all about failure. Life is about resilience. Life is about knocking on every door God places before you - EVERY door. Some open. Some don't. Some you pound on for years, you want them to open so very badly. And yet they don't. Sooner or later, either you salvage your bruised spiritual fist and move on, or you never fulfill your true destiny because you waste your life pounding on a door that was never meant for you.
My sense of self-worth has taken a beating. Another one. And I face a harsh reality of choices. I can choose to quell the creative fire within me and settle into a mundane, middle-aged, average life. This choice would be applauded by many in my life. Those who do not understand why I can't just "be happy." Why I am so driven to try - and strive to excel in - so many, many things. Why I can't just "settle down" and work eight hours a day and come home and make supper and watch 2.3 hours of television on average every night and go through this routine like a mindless rodent on a wheel for several decades until one day there is a small, grainy photograph of me in an obscure newspaper somewhere and a little paragraph that tells the world absolutely nothing about who I really was.
Or I can choose to knock on the next door.