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Monday, June 27, 2011

Getting Tough (2)

A week or so ago I wrote a post about getting tough.  The essence of it is that life will not always give you what you want, but it will always give you what you need. And what you need at a deeper psycho-spiritual level may not be the same as what you think you need.

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, or so they say. That’s certainly true if you fail to allow what is before you to be precious!

What happens when we repeatedly fail to get what we want? Maybe you want a promotion, but are passed up time and time again. Maybe you want children, but you and your partner fail to conceive. Perhaps you want your own home, but have never been able to scrape together enough cash to make it a reality.

The reality is that there are many things in life that you want that you are not going to get. But not getting what you want can be a blessing in disguise.

The reason I wrote the first post about getting tough is that I had just failed to gain a full-time position at a university, yet again. I gained my PhD about five years ago, and have probably applied for well over 100 academic jobs since. I have been interviewed eight times in total. For each interview I prepare two or three weeks in advance. I learn everything I can about the job, the interviewing panel, the school, and so on. For this most recent job there were an unprecedented six associate professor positions going in an area related to my expertise, Futures Studies. Naturally I was very confident of getting one of those jobs. After all, there are not that many futurists getting around! I have also spent five years working very hard publishing, delivering conference papers and even organising an international Futures conference. I have had my thesis published as a book, won awards for my journal papers, been elected to a very high profile Futures body. All to no avail, at least as far as getting hired by a university goes.

As part of my preparation for this recent job, I did research on the interviewing panel. I was surprised to see that some of them had done relatively little academic work. Going to Google Scholar, I found that one of them had only published one journal article, and there were no other references at all to his/her work. In contrast, I get five or six pages of citations on Google scholar for my own work. I did find one online comment he/she had made recently where he/she admitted to struggling to understand Futures Studies.

Why then was this person offered a job in the school, while I was rejected? I admit to being perplexed myself. Unfortunately the world does not always obey one’s conscious desires!

My experience with academia in general does not shed much light upon the selection processes. I have attended academic conferences and seen some of the most appalling presentations imaginable. A couple of years ago I attended a certain consciousness conference, as just one example. I had submitted a paper to conference organizers in the hopes of being able to present it, but it was rejected. No explanation was given. I was then told that I would be given a poster presentation. A “poster” is where you are put in a little room, tack a poster to the wall, and speak to whomever passes by. I wasn’t happy with my rejection as I already had substantial research in the area and had delivered many papers previously. Still, I didn’t complain. I thought I’d just go with the flow.

However when I turned up in the little room on the day to tack up my poster, I found they had left me out of the conference proceedings (the booklet distributed to all attendees), and thus they had no space for me in the room. Eventually they stuck me in between two local university undergraduates in a space less than two metres wide. The uni grads on either side of me had basically no knowledge of the field, but had done up some creative posters about artificial intelligence. It was somewhat humiliating.

There were some good presentations delivered at that conference, but some were awful. I sat through one futurist’s “paper” where the presenter sat in a chair behind her computer the entire time, did not look up at the audience, and simply flipped through PowerPoint slides for half an hour while mumbling to herself. It was excruciating. Another presenter at the same conference gave a presentation in such poor English that I could barely understand a word she said. Most of the arguments and references she gave were at least twenty years old.

C’est la vie, as they say. That’s the way it goes. Certainly though, the idea of injustice would not be out of place as I contemplate some of the way things have gone for my academic aspirations in Futures Studies thus far. I know I am a much better researcher, teacher and presenter than many people who have been given a job in a university.

Yet what can one do when things don’t go your way? When there is injustice, rejection and failure? I dealt with this in some depth in the last post about getting tough, but whatever it is in life that causes you pain, or that pushes your buttons, or that drags you into drama with others, you must take responsibility for your actions, your results, and the emotional energy that passes through you. Most of all, you must not believe whatever victim-oriented story the ego wants you to buy. The ego will attach itself to various narratives, and inevitably most of those will involve seeing itself as being hard done by. I was robbed! We were cheated! Look what they did to me now! If you are interested in some of the processes you can use in dealing with a stubborn ego, my book Discover Your Soul Template goes into several in detail.

I have mentioned many times that a core part of my spiritual guidance comes through songs. There’s one song that comes to me often when I am feeling down or when I feel that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are piercing my heart. It’s a song my music teacher taught my class when I was in primary school. If you have never heard it, have a listen now.

Finally, let’s get specific. When you experience failure, you might like to apply this process.

  • 1. Get quality feedback. Ask for it, if possible. Don't be scared of your shortcomings.    
  • 2. Look at your goal. Is it realistic? Do you really want it?
  • 3.  How can you empower your actions next time, to produce more effective outcomes?
  • 4.   What negative or self-limiting belief structures have you noted during the process of trying to achieve your goal, and/or after the outcome? Do you need to do some healing work?
  • 5. Use your support networks. Talk to people, but don't sell them your sob story!
  • 6.  Have you stayed true to your own ideals, or have you compromised your ideals and values?
The last issue is a difficult one. It is tempting after repeated failures to begin to compromise on what you know is of greatest importance to you. Don’t! In my recent interview I was very upfront about what I was most interested in researching: Deep Futures
This is my term for futures that have great depth in meaning, purpose and an uncompromising commitment to what is noblest and greatest within the human spirit.

One thing that helped me to deal with my recent ‘failure’ was that during the entire time leading up to the interview, I used creative imagination to imagine myself being successful; but after each visualisation session I released the outcome to God.  This helped me stay detached from the outcome, and minimise disappointment.

Finally, some possible good news eventually came out of the interview. I have been told that the university would like to do “collaborative” work with me. I was told that they found my approach “very interesting”. The details are yet to be made clear.

Perhaps in the end, sticking to one’s guns will pay off. But there are no guarantees in life. One can only keep returning one's mind to the present moment, and living in gratitude for what one has been given by God. The greatest gift we have for the world is our inner light: the smile we carry on our faces, our laughter and lightness of spirit that we carry within. Yet that light cannot shine while the ego tries to insist that it is the victim.

Keep smiling!



  1. Don't you think that its likely possible that academia wants conformist-minded people to "join the club" and that truly original thinkers or those whose ideas go way outside the norm might be considered a "threat"? I find that academia is not so much interested in truly original ideas than they are in conforming the minds of youth towards the status quo. I did not realize this until a few years after I finished college that I had received a standard "neo conservative" education regarding my International Politics major. And I had totally bought into it!

  2. Yes, of course Sansego. Many of the areas that I have researched are basically taboo areas in academia - especially mysticism, spirituality and the frontiers of intelligence. Even Futures Studies is not recognised as a discipline in many universities (but that appears to be changing for the better, with many universities now working in that area). One thing i am starting to realise is that I have to keep grounding what I do in the real world of markets and society. That is basically the domain tertiary education is focused. So I am now going to do more research in relation to online learning and IT. There are some very interesting developments happening in that area.

    But yeah, it is not easy being turned down year after year, while people who haven't done half the work I have are given jobs.

  3. I think another point is that we can only see a very small distance around us in the web of causes and effects; in the larger picture not getting the job may have been crucial in freeing you to do something else which is a better fit to your 'soul template'.

    Life's so bloody difficult at times, isn't it? Disentangling the ego's desires from the soul's needs is challenging for the most aware of people.

    And Sansego's right on the money there too, by the way.

  4. Yes Simon. And in the end my main purpose in being here is not to get a job, nor is that the case for anyone.