Lessons Learned from a “Setback”
Last week I applied for a fellowship in international relations. I received a partial funding offer. I chose to decline the funding offer because I couldn’t cope with the unanticipated stress of seeking additional funding under a tight time constraint. Unfortunately, I also snapped under pressure in response to 12 years of relentless rejection in the field of international relations. So what factors caused me to crack under pressure in this case?
1. I had suffered 12 straight years of endless rejection in the field of international relations. As a result, the prospect of being rejected in this profession became a severe traumatic trigger for me. I cracked less in response to this perceived setback than to a long history of painful trauma in this field.
2. As a person with Aspergers, I tend to look at issues from a black and white perspective. For this reason, I lacked the flexibility and open-mindedness to understand that the funder was trying to give me an opportunity by offering me partial funding. I interpreted his partial funding offer as a rejection rather than as his vote of confidence in me and my project.
3. I did not realize that the standard grant funding process requires simultaneous application to multiple funding sources. I put all my eggs into one basket and collapsed when I did not receive the anticipated and desired result from this funding source. I also lacked a sufficiently wide range of contacts in the field to enable me to approach multiple funding sources at once.
4. I don’t work well when faced with a serious time constraint. In order to make this process work, I would have been forced to scramble for $3,000 in additional funding within 60 days in a case when I had no idea where to seek more funding sources.
5. I was in an emotionally desperate position when I submitted the grant proposal. My dad had verbally abused my mother and me very recently. In addition, my attempt to find alternative housing collapsed because I discovered I didn’t have enough funds to rent my own apartment. I probably overreacted to the partial funding offer because I was already so traumatized and I felt trapped and unable to escape my abusive family of origin.
So what are the lessons learned from this ‘setback’?
1. I am better off moving on from international relations and exploring opportunities in other fields which may prove more satisfying to me in the long run. These options include writing, speaking, and advocacy about Asperger’s and about verbal abuse in intimate relationships. Cutting my losses in international relations will liberate me to make a fresh start in new fields with a more open-minded and less wounded perspective.
2. Next time I apply for a grant, I need to approach multiple funding sources at once. This way, if I receive a partial grant offer from one source, I will be in a better position to evaluate my options and determine whether or not to accept or reject this partial offer. I should not put all my eggs into one basket but should cultivate a wide range of contacts and relationships in the fields of interest to me. More education about the grant application process would have better prepared me to adapt to an unanticipated situation.
3. I don’t function well under time pressure, and thus I should where possible try to avoid situations involving tight deadlines.
4. I should avoid making major career decisions or job applications when I am in an emotionally fragile position. Desperation has always worked against me.
5. I need to work on developing a new and more flexible and open-minded attitude toward life. This approach will allow me to begin overcoming my fears and reaching my full potential. I need to understand and try to overcome the rigid, black-and-white thinking which is a result of my Aspergers. A more flexible mind-set will open up more and better opportunities for me in my chosen fields of future endeavor.