on limitations

Almost no one knows this next secret: I was a contender in a job pool for a good part of last year. I kept this to myself for the most part, not because I didn’t want anyone to know but because, A. it never came up casually in conversation; and (more importantly) B. I knew very little about how it was going to turn out, what I’d actually think about the position if it had been offered to me, and I didn’t see a need to stir up the issue for something that was likely not to amount to anything. There are a variety of reasons for throwing my hat in the ring for this particular job, the only one I’ve applied for since I took the position I’ve been in for the past 15 years*, but that’s not what’s relevant to this entry.

Instead, what’s created a fair amount of internal mental nagging for the past few months stemmed from the following, a fragment of the email I received that ended my entry in the race. Just for context, this was after a long, drawn out process that had some strange pauses. Something else was going on in the background with the search committee and their department, but that’s not necessarily out of the ordinary in a university search process. The culmination of all this was summarized in three sentences:

To make a long story short, the search committee found that you had many things to offer to our program and college. However, we also found some limitations that made it difficult for us to move further. On behalf of the committee, I thank you for taking the time for the interview. 

The notable wording, to me, was the “limitations” part. I read that piece a few times, and I floated a few unlikely explanations for why this search committee chair would use that word. I imagined things like:

  1. As the writer is a non-native English speaker, there could be nuances of meaning that I’m reading that she meant differently.
  2. The “limitations” she speaks of might not be not mine, but someone else’s. The limitations could have been their own, an inherent problem that had drawn out the search process and, in the end, made it impossible to actually finish the search. Or, the university couldn’t afford the ridiculous salary they thought I deserved. Or something else.
  3. I could have a limitation.
  4. Or several, plural, many limitations.

We all know what the truth is, and even that is not the problem that’s plaguing me. I have limitations all over, swarming around me like flies. What I’m troubled by is the question of “Which ones?!” and “How did they know?!” Have they seen my office lately? Did they wish I’d had one more line on my CV? Was it a specific research line that they really wanted to focus on that they hadn’t quite narrowed in on until later in the search? Any of these seem reasonable, but I’m almost certain it is something else, something more damning — or why else would she not want to simply mention this rather than politely obscure it?

So, just what are those very real and damning limitations? It could be any of the following:

  • I complain about my mother.
  • I don’t iron my clothes enough, and I often choose a shirt based on what is the least wrinkled piece hanging in the closest.        
  • I’ve been known to sit on the couch and drink a beer rather than grade.
  • I’ve been known to get up early in the morning to grade … and still not finish my grading.
  • Once, I may have complained about my dean.**
  • I haven’t been writing enough lately, and when I do I apparently just fixate on my limitations.

It could be lots of other things, too, no doubt. But here’s what is the most disturbing: What limitations were they thinking of that I haven’t? It’s one thing to have limitations and know them; it’s wholly another to have them and not realize what they are. And this is probably the thing that’s nagging me. Rather than being told, “We have moved on to other candidates because we don’t see evidence that you could work with our PhD students,” they’ve left me to guess what my limitations might be. There are too many possibilities. It would have been better to have been told outright that I should be nicer to my mother and my dean, that I could be doing more significant research, that I shouldn’t drink beer and sit on the couch. For now, I am just left to wonder, beer in hand.

_____
* I don’t understand at all how that amount of time is possible. I feel like I’ve been in one of those movies where time has been messed with and I’ve just found myself in the wrong side of some discontinuity in time and/or space.
** It just struck me that my mother and my dean, while both may have been lumped into the same “complained about” group, would never in a thousand years like each other or find any reason to associate.

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