As a fat person, I’m very familiar with failure. My body, to most, represents a failure. A failure of discipline. A failure of self control. A failure to appropriately manage my body and the burden it may become for society (NEOLIBERALISM, AM I RIGHT?!)
As a super fat person, I’ve spent decades failing at making myself smaller. Bodies get to be my size after decades of succeeding, and then failing, at weight loss. I get the congratulations and appreciation when I succeed to lose. And the sheltered looks of pity and “you’ll get ‘em next time” pep talks when I fail through growth.
My failures at weight loss are public. People in my daily life know when I’ve failed. I don’t have to tell them, it’s written on my body. Social media makes it more likely that people who entire my life long after those failures could discover them for themselves; here’s a memory for you from 10yrs and 100lbs ago, Cat. Hoozah!
My failures as an academic, though, aren’t as public. No one knows if an article is rejected by an editor, or if I’m turned down for a funding grant, unless I chose to tell them. And while I do speak about such things with my close friends and colleagues, I don’t share them on social media in the same way I share my successes. We don’t talk about failing in academia very often, and this probably leaves many out in the cold. It may appear that everyone else is only ever succeeding, if that’s what we share on social media. So, I’m going to work on failing out loud.
Most recently, I failed to secure an appointment to a faculty position I really wanted. In many ways, it was a dream posting. It’s in an awesome team doing critical health scholarship in the University where I’m already on faculty. My work on fat stigma & oppression would have fit in well with these colleagues, and it would have been a nice change to share a corridor with scholars who work in a complementary field to my own. But they went with someone else, as often (usually?) happens in academia. They decided I wasn’t the best fit for them, and that’s ok. I’m bummed, and disappointed, but not terribly surprised. And I’m taking some comfort in knowing I did my very best in my research presentation and my interview. But it’s a failure, for sure. One that many experience.
I’m not here to write about what you can learn from failure. Or about whether it is better to try and fail then not try at all. I’m vocalising a big failure so others might read it – see it – hear about it. Maybe it’ll help. Melanie Stefan is credited with the idea of a CV of failures; since her piece in Nature, many successful academics have crafted failure CVs to sit alongside their regular CVs as evidence that all of us have failed along the way. All of us have heard “No” at some point. Many have taken issue with the failure CV, pointing out that most people who produce them do so from a position of privilege.
I’m not planning to create a CV of failures, although I have documented in many places my failures at becoming smaller. But I will make an effort to talk openly about my losses across social media; maybe others would like to join me?