“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
― Grantland Rice
When playing roller derby, my feelings of success are often not directly tied to the final score. If I played well with my team, if we communicated and implemented strategy, I feel great even when we lose. Conversely, if I couldn’t put my body where it needed to be on the track, or if I couldn’t get through the pack as a jammer, I feel like rubbish even if my team won.
Weirdly, I experienced both of these scenarios recently in my academic life.
During spring break, I took my written doctoral exams in a small, windowless room. Day 1 was 4.5 hours on 4 questions. I outlined all of them, did some jumping jacks, then finally found my stride on question 4. Question 4 and I formed an amazing wall that no jammer or committee member could break through. Then it was already half-time, and I couldn’t go prose up my other outlines. Day 2 was 4.5 hours on my choice of 3 out of 4 questions. I outlined them all, then prosed up my chosen 3. I experienced flow (Csikszentmihalyi). My mind and body were lining up. It felt pretty okay.
I then left the exam and went to a job interview. The position required a mix of foreign language pedagogy, K-16 teacher professional development, outreach, and online course design. The interview committee of 5 staff members were friendly, engaged, and asked interesting questions, which I felt like I answered confidently and successfully. It felt more like a conversation than an assessment of my potential in the position.
[Pause to enjoy a few days of unofficial events surrounding the SXSW music festival. Then a week of additional preparation and the Honk brass band festival]
Yesterday, I entered the room for my oral exam, feeling relatively confident and calm. I had prepared to orally flesh out those three questions from day 1. Yet, nothing went as I had expected. It felt like I wore the wrong wheels and could barely stay up on my skates, let alone score points for my team. End result: I passed with conditions (meaning I have to complete two additional tasks before I can advance to candidacy, aka get on with my dissertation). I understand the reasoning, and this result is not uncommon. But I still felt unsettled. End result: I won, but I don’t feel like celebrating.
A few hours later, I received a rejection email regarding the job. But it somehow still felt like a victory. While some of the staff preferred a candidate with more experience in online learning, I was able to convey my strengths and talent in a way that felt successful. I’m on their radar as a potential candidate interested in an alt-ac position. End result: I lost, but I played the game well and have potential for future wins.