I tend to think of myself as pretty forgettable. That sounds awful. And I don’t necessarily mean it in every context. But I sure do often feel compelled to re-introduce myself to people if I believe they played a more significant role in my life than I did in theirs. Teachers, professors, supervisors, elders…these people are unlikely to remember me by name or face. They’ve got more important people and things that occupy their time and memory. Self esteem issues to work on? Maybe a little. But I like to think it’s not so uncommon. Besides, this isn’t the right time to be distracted by what will (I’m sure) one day be discussed in therapy. We’re focusing on important people and my presumed forgettable nature among them.
For this reason, I always swallow a horse pill of dread when I read an application for something that requires references, whether academic or professional. Understanding the requirement means preparing to contact some important people in my past who likely will need to be reminded of who I am and why they should say positive things about me.
“Hi. Uhhhh. Remember me from like 10 years ago? Yeah, I was in your such/such class. It was super. You gave me some good grades and we had some interesting chats back then. Sorry about not being in touch since I graduated – or maybe you got that one email I sent about 8 years ago? Right, well anyway, can I ask you for a favor?”
Fortunately the need to request such a favor does not arise too often. But when it does, I become angry with myself for not maintaining these important connections. Not only could these former professors (and even former bosses) be providing me with recommendations for my occasional efforts to try something new; they could be advisers and mentors throughout the process. But no. I don’t think about that until there’s an urgent need to get that letter from them.
So when it came time to request 2 academic recommendations for my UvA application, I held onto that nervous feeling for a couple of months, procrastinated for a couple more, then finally swallowed my pride and reached out to one professor from undergrad and one from law school. Two of my favorites, actually. The undergrad professor was my thesis/project adviser. And although I hated law school, I admit that I had some professors that made it worthwhile. And shortly after I graduated, this one promised me “references for life.” Regardless, I convinced myself that they wouldn’t remember me after all this time.
I got the first response from my undergrad professor, which was incredibly enthusiastic. And although I have no idea why this would be the case, she said, “I was just perusing your fabulous senior project!” How strange and flattering! And the law school professor expressed similar excitement to hear from me and about my intentions to pursue this program in Amsterdam. Sigh of relief…I was dreading the task for nothing…application complete…almost.
Getting an enthusiastic promise means nothing if the letter is never written. It’s important to make sure they come through, especially if there’s a deadline involved. So I quickly went from the woman they likely wouldn’t remember to the harassing micro-manager who keeps making urgent demands. And I feel guilty and insecure the entire time. A lovely picture of emotional torment.
So anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I got all pieces of my application together and sent everything off to Amsterdam – with the exception of one letter of recommendation from the law school professor. It was already written and I was expecting it way over a month ago. But she stopped responding to my emails. And I was beginning to panic (keeping in mind the timeline for working up the nerve to ask for a recommendation is at least 4 months alone – never mind the time it would take someone else to write something). It actually crossed my mind that she may be in some type of danger and I should call the police. But how would I have identified myself? “The woman to whom she promised a recommendation, godammit!”
I sent a final plea on Tuesday, communicating my panic in a courteous way. And then the most wonderful thing happened: she responded. Not only did she respond, she apologized for falling out of touch and explained that she submitted the letter to complete my application. Reading the receipt confirmation email she forwarded from the University, I’m pretty sure I shed a tear of relief. And finally, in her email she reminded me that her offer still stands for life.
I received an official confirmation this morning from the admission’s office that my application is complete and has been forwarded for review. Now that felt good.
I’m so thankful to those professors for the genuine support they showed and for coming through for me. I still just can’t believe they remembered me…
2 thoughts on “Favors for the Forgotten”
As a person who has been on both sides of the equation–requesting and being requested, I completely feel you and the professor on this! I know when students ask me for recs, I often finish the most crucial aspect (writing the recommendation), tick it off my to-do list and forget to contact the student to confirm that the job has been done, leaving them worried and concerned…Or it ISN’T ticked off my to-do list and I can’t respond to their emails until I’ve completed the task at hand and can triumphantly state, it is done! Either one cause the anxiety you’ve just mentioned. I remember almost all my students because they fall into two categories, remarkable and unremarkable. The latter being a blend of faces and names from a disconnected dispassionate lot who stare longingly out of the window, hat brims pulled tight and secretly texting . That’s not your disposition so it goes without saying that you’d fall into for first category.
This is enlightening! I love hearing it from the prof’s perspective. I think this is exactly what was going on with her.