Join my newsletter for updates about new writing, books, and more.

Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Not So Graceful Period: My Alt-Ac Story

Railroad tracks in different directions.

Last year, I went to the American Academy of Religion (AAR) annual meeting, the first time I’ve attended in years (and the first time that I really didn’t care about what people thought of me).

I wasn’t on the academic job market. I have a job that I love, as editor of Women in Higher Education. My goal was to present on white supremacy and American religions, talk about how to become a public scholar, and yell at the AAR about #MeToo and the need for an anti-harassment policy.

What I wasn’t entirely prepared for—but should have been—was all the people that wanted to talk about my current career, how I accomplished it and my “successes.”

I have, what many people call, an alt-ac (alternative academic) job, a job adjacent to higher ed but not quite in it. And folks wanted to know how I transitioned into one of those jobs outside of the academy—what my mom calls “a job.” Advisors, departments, and institutions have finally (maybe?) decided to pay attention to how their students can get these jobs out in the world, especially considering the dire job market in the humanities.

When I go to conferences, like the AAR, I get asked about my career path, as if it was actually a clear path from my not-so-graceful exit to my current gig. The path was never clear or guaranteed, even it it appears, to some, now. (The future is never fixed; we just like to tell ourselves it is.)

These questions happen not only because I wrote so publicly about my transition for Chronicle Vitae but also because I have been deemed a “success” without really knowing it. (more…)

The End Was Not the End

*Sometimes, a beginning feels like an ending at first.*

When I left academia, I kind of thought my life was over as a scholar, a teacher, a researcher & a writer. More than thought it, I felt it. In my marrow and sinew, in my flesh and heart. My life as I knew it was over. And I was pregnant with my second child, hiding from the Florida summer heat and all my expectations that I shattered with one final, albeit forced, choice. While I was hiding, I was also hedging. One day, I might return to academic life, I told friends, students, and colleagues, perhaps, this isn’t the end. I hedged to make them feel better, which only made me feel worse about the loss and my inability to put together words to explain what was happening.

I’ve written about this before, many times before, but bear with me again. I thought my life was over at 32, almost 33, because everything I imagined for myself finally appeared hopelessly out of reach. I attempted to lean into the change by making a clean break, but my breaks are never quite clean. (The more I want them to be, the less they are.) Instead, I claimed I was in transition, a constant state of flux, which makes little sense for someone who hates change and craves routine, schedule, and rules to follow. And yet, I decided to write about what I couldn’t say.

I started writing to figure out what had happened to me. I started writing to make sense of my past years training to be an academic but also to figure out what my future might be. I started writing not only about my life but also about higher ed to answer the questions that swirled in my head about the profession I thought I loved and understood, only to realize that I didn’t know what that profession actually was. I started writing to figure things out and to try to save my own life by creating a new story of who I was and who I could become.

(more…)

On Quitting

*Quitting is not inherently a failure.*

It all started with a parenting newsletter in my inbox. This particular newsletter focused upon what to do when your kids want to quit an activity, sport, or extracurricular. Like much of the advice on quitting, the newsletter cheerfully suggested that you shouldn’t let your child quit, even when their misery appeared in slumped shoulders and frowns on face. Instead, parents, you should encourage your child to stick around, in spite of their misery. Quitting, it seemed from the newsletter, could only be read as failure. And the implication was that parents surely don’t want their kids to be quitters or failures.

As I read the newsletter’s parenting advice, I got angrier and angrier. I promptly deleted the email and almost unsubscribed (is that quitting?). I couldn’t quite pinpoint what made me so angry. Then, it occurred to me that the assumptions about quitting and failure bothered me. The newsletter assumed that quitting was somehow bad and sticking around was somehow good. Sticking around signaled success, but quitting could only be failure. This is a terrible way to imagine quitting, but it’s a remarkably common one.

People equate failure with quitting all the time, and I really hate when they do because quitting isn’t inherently a failure. Quitting is but one choice out of many. We make many, many choices about our lives each day, but quitting is one choice that is consistently presented as a type of failure.

Claiming that quitting is only failure misses the fact that quitting can be so much more. Quitting has many possibilities. (more…)