Nothing but Myself to Recommend Me

In one of my favourite novels, Jane Austen writes about “a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him.” It would be wonderful if people would look for themselves and judge another’s merits. Isn’t it strange that people don’t value their own judgement? They’re so uncertain about it that they need the validation of three referees. Who knows where that magic number three came from, but in my experience, that’s how many we need. Everybody asks for three. I suspect they do it because they’ve seen somebody else asking for three, and so it goes.

We apply for jobs or grants or residencies, and agencies don’t trust their own judgement. In fact, they’d rather avoid personal contact. It’s really odd, this whole keeping a distance thing. I make claims for my own merits, and I understand that some fact checking might be necessary. I don’t want to end up in Catch Me If You Can. But it’s especially easy now to see if I did teach all those courses and publish all those things. Those are the accomplishments, those and the education. Those are the things that qualify me for the job or grant or residency. But, very ironically, those things are not the focus of investigation. Only one of my many applications has ever required proof of a degree.

I have nothing but myself to recommend me. In the end, as Austen’s Persuasion shows, even if we have rank and possessions, we still have only ourselves, for good or bad. Today, yet again, I have sent out requests for people to write reference letters for me. I wish I were past that. In a very real way, reference letters don’t prove anything. Letter writers might be fabrications. I wish I were measured by my merits as I describe them, rather than how someone else describes them.

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3 Comments

Filed under On Thinking

3 responses to “Nothing but Myself to Recommend Me

  1. Do you suppose that references are required of Presidents, Kings, and Prime Ministers? But I do know that our Scholarship Board places strong emphasis on the quality of references a student provide. And to think, each of those kids is just starting out on the path of required references in their lives. It is tiring to contemplate.

    • Believe me, Doris, I know the weight put on those letters. I even requested letters once, for applications to the travel study, but I quickly learned that they did zero good for screening purposes. I know the game, and it’s a strategic one.

  2. That has been one of our shredding bugaboo’s. Shredding all the applications for scholarship, plus references, since we started the scholarship in 1967. My daughter about blew her stack when she realized that we had saved all of them.

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