What do you do if someone you know in a professional or academic setting tells you they will do something by a certain time and then….doesn’t? I had an email exchange with an advisor who said they’d get back to me by the end of the day. I replied, “Perfect, thank you so much!” But they haven’t done it, and I really need their feedback. I’m guessing I should just write another email to remind them, but I’m not sure what to say or when to send it. Help? —Celeste, 20, Portland
My heart is beating like a hummingbird’s right now, Celeste. My face is hot and red, and I’m starting to perspire, because answering your question will require me to reveal literally the most embarrassing, shameful thing in my life. GAH. Are you ready? (I’m not.) OK, here goes. This is the inbox for Rookie submissions:
I KNOW, YOU GUYS. I am just as horrified as you are! Before you go judging me (or at least take this next thing into account when you do your judging), let me explain, OK?
I get between 75 and 150 emails every day in my personal inbox. Our submissions email gets between 100 and 200 messages a day. None of this is because I’m SO POPULAR; it is just a fact that comes with my job. It is impossible, based on the laws of physics and the limitations of the human body, for one person to read, think about, and answer every single one of those messages in a single day, especially when most of the submissions require me to read a few pages of an attached document, and ESPECIALLY in addition to doing the rest of my job. So, what happens? A lot of those messages go unanswered for a very long time. If you have written to me and I haven’t answered, it is for one of these seven reasons:
- I read the message, made a mental note to answer it, then got overwhelmed with other stuff and totally forgot.
- I read the message and made an actual written note to answer it, but I haven’t gotten that far down my to-do list.
- I started reading the message, but it was SO LONG and SO COMPLICATED that I was like, I will come back to this one, and then I never did.
- I SKIMMED the message and didn’t catch the part about the deadline, so I am not aware of the urgency of the matter.
- The email got buried under 100 other emails that came in that day, and I won’t see it until one day much later, when I’m searching for something else and am like, “Oh shit! I didn’t see this! Is it too late?” and you’re like, “Uh, yeah, asshole.” This, unfortunately, is the most common of these scenarios.
- I started answering the email and then some urgent thing came up, and I forgot that I hadn’t finished or sent it and in fact believe that I DID send it, and then I’m all, “Didn’t you get my email???” and you’re like, “No,” and I have to be like, “Oh that’s because I never sent it.”
- I answered it, saying, “I’ll do this by the end of the day,” then I got overwhelmed with other urgent stuff and totally forgot to get back to it. This, I’m guessing, is what happened with your email to your advisor.
Ugh, I AM A MONSTER. I know how awful it is to write to someone and have them never answer, or to have someone—especially someone in a position of authority—promise they will do something, but not deliver. Like I said, the Rookie submissions inbox is literally the biggest source of guilt in my life! Thinking about it right now is making me a little dizzy.
OK. Deep breaths. The point of this confession is not to masochistically submit myself to a public flogging, but rather to give you some context. Most editors are in the same situation I’m in, which is why it takes so long for them to answer your emails. The same, I’m guessing, is true for professors and advisors. I’m positive that your advisor really wants to respond to what you sent them, but they forgot, or it got buried under an avalanche of other work they had to do. Here is what not to do in this situation: take it personally. I’m sure it has NOTHING to do with you! The worst thing you can do is get angry and start subtweeting about them like “I used to think promises meant something, thanks for murdering my innocence” or “#thatawkwardmoment when your trust is snuffed out like a candle in the wind by your academic advisor”
Here is exactly what to do: Send them another email the next day. Don’t open a new message window for this; do it as a reply to their “I’ll get back to you” email, with your exchange thus far quoted underneath, so that they won’t have to go searching for your first message. Here is what you say in that email:
Hi, NAME OF ADVISOR. Just checking in to see if you still have time to do this. Thanks!
Hello! Just bumping this back up to the top of your inbox, in case it got buried.
(If you need the answer by a certain day, you can add a reminder of that deadline.)
Do you know how much I LOVE emails like this? SO MUCH, because instead of being like, “WTF IS YR PROBLEM WHY ARE YOU NOT ANSWERING MEEEEEE,” they’re acknowledging my situation by saying, “I know how much work you have; here is a helpful reminder of this one thing you said you would do.” They key is to be upbeat and casual, because the last thing this person needs (I may be projecting here, but it’s on purpose) is MORE GUILT. Now I’m gonna go enter a monastery and never talk to or see anyone ever again, but I hope this was helpful in the meantime. —Anaheed
Recently, my best friend ditched me, leaving me with almost no friends AND turning her new popular friends against me. She’s very condescending toward me, which is making me miserable at school. My parents say I can transfer to another school next year—one where many of my friends go—but the one I go to now is GREAT academically, whereas the other is known for having bad teachers. Do I stay where I am, with no friends but awesome teachers, or do I go to the school with good friends and potentially awful teachers? —Lily
When I was in the eighth grade, I was obsessed with switching schools. After my best friend in the world dumped my ass, I lost custody of all of our mutuals, and they made fun of me relentlessly as I unsuccessfully begged for their (and especially her) esteem back. I thought that if I transferred to this one boarding school elsewhere in the state, I could find new compatriots to hang with and finally be rid of the DESPERATE GAPING NEED for my ex-crew to like me again despite my knowing that what they had done to me was shitty and even though I didn’t actually, deep down, want to be friends with them after they broke my heart like that. (Or, really, at all, regardless—one of the girls used to get mad at me if I put lyrics in my away messages from songs that she considered HERS, while another frequently lectured me on how great it was to have guys let you sit in their cool cars. Do your former friends have dumb qualities like this? I suggest you dwell on them).
Looking back, I’m really glad I wasn’t able to transfer, because by staying at a school where I had roughly zero friends for a good long while, I was forced to learn one of the most useful things in the whole entire world, something that was crucial to the development of my personhood: Up to a point, lonesomeness can work in your favor. Do you know the term woodshedding? It basically means repeatedly practicing a skill in isolation until you become way, way better at it (you don’t have to do this in an actual wooden shed…unless you want to?). Since I didn’t have much company as a young teenager, that’s what I did, albeit unintentionally: I sank myself into reading and writing obsessively, and it was maybe the most formative and productive thing I could have done with that time in my life. I think that’s when I started to understand what I valued most in other people’s creative work, and what my number-one goal was in my own writing. (Funnily, that aspiration, which hasn’t changed since then, OR SO I THOUGHT, is kind of antithetical to this answer—I decided that what I most wanted my work to do was make other people feel less alone. REALLY GOING BACK ON MY PRINCIPLES HERE, I guess.)
Academics are clearly important to you, so stay where you are and flex on those grades. The whole rest of your lifelong will be better for it. This is not to say feeling alienated does not hurt like you might actually be dying from a lack of friendship, which you seem to know. So know, too, that I’m not advising that you seal yourself up from the rest of the world forever in order to master your particular brand of genius: The wonderful thing about your scenario is that you’ve already managed to make friends who don’t go to your particular school, people you can feel close to without seeing them in the hallways every day. You have the best of both worlds, my dude, so don’t give that up! Fuck your ex-friends, and relish the fact that you get to be the enigmatic brainiac who’s cool enough to roll with a mysterious passel of strangers that you didn’t have to rely on math class to find. That is one of the raddest people in high school to be, wouldn’t you agree?
So: Go woodshed until your brain is ironclad in its un-fuck-with-ability, see your friends from the other place on weekends and afternoons without having to also suffer their maybe-bad teachers, and draw scads of mean cartoons of your ex-gang getting stuck in quicksand in your binder if it makes you feel better while you’re in class with them—at least until you stop caring what they think (which, if you commit to doing the first two, will be sooner than you might guess). —Amy Rose