The Setback

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Last week, I shared my thoughts on overthinking as a thought process, its development, and its conclusion. I also shared my decision process to pursue a doctorate in Typography; how excited I was and how it paralyzed me. Lastly, I mentioned how decisions are similar to a roll of the dice. My time of waiting for the dice to land lasted a few days.

The email came Tuesday morning. The message was so unexpectedly negative that it left me dumbfounded. Other than to acknowledge the message and say I would reply after a few days, I truly did not know what to say. I am still trying to articulate a response.

I spent the day ruminating on the email. What did I miss? I felt my efforts and research vanish in a simple email, kind of vacuumed away. Suddenly it felt like my words were lost in the web of bytes and binary numbers. So many thoughts circled in my head and none seemed clearer than the other. My mind was hitting a wall. During my classes’ story time, I shared with my students the news. The empathetic silence and sense of disappointment they felt was both endearing as it was sad.

Somehow they echoed what I felt: a numbness of thought.

After submitting my proposal, I did expect questions, of course. Mostly I expected questions of clarification and methodology. I had no reason to expect a full rejection of the topic entirely. Nothing in my previous communication with them had indicated my topic was not right or not worth pursuing. Worse, because the response came after much struggle on my part to own it, it struck deeper. It left a void, a type of black hole, and a sense of loss and confusion. Perhaps I am too full of myself and arrogantly misread the interactions?

A good friend and colleague asked me: “what do you want most, the doctorate or the topic?” I answered that I could not separate them. After much struggle I came to the point where these two—the topic and the doctorate—are mutually exclusive. I know they are not really but for me, at this moment, they are. Hence, what do I do? What do I say?

Questions about how to respond float in my head. Do I push back? Do I find another topic and start another proposal equally compelling to me? Do I ask more questions? Do I challenge the content of the message because it is off base at times? Do I go around to find another school that is equally good to submit my proposal? Do I do this project on my own and if so, with what funding?

I understand that I may sound pessimistic to some. We are wired to always hear the heroic scream of the defeated to go on and conquer their Goliath. We are comfortable with that. It makes us feel better. But, life is not always all yes and moving forward. Life sometimes is messy and gloomy, if the term fits.

Unlike my previous essays I do not have a path or a concluding positive thought. I end this essay in confusion and without a clear path to follow. At least for now. This is a setback. I acknowledge it. Now, I have to go and work on my comeback.

*This essay is graciously edited by my daughter.

Alma Hoffmann is a freelance designer, design educator, author of Sketching as Design Thinking, and editor at Smashing Magazine. This was originally posted on Temperamental amusing shenanigans, Alma’s Substack dedicated to design, life, and everything in between.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash.

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