Last week I shared some reflections on how I use scholarly productivity as an escape in response to grief. After I published that post, I thought more about it. What I didn’t really engage in that post, and something I try to avoid thinking about, is what happens when I’m met with academic failure while wrestling with grief. After really thinking about it, when grief and academic failure come together, they collide.

Grief comes, goes, mostly stays

After rereading last week’s post, it reads as though my experiences with grief turn on and off, often connected to death anniversaries. Well, here’s the thing. It does come in waves. But it rarely disappears. There are things that trigger more intense grief-connected emotions. Sometimes they’re good memories, sometimes not. I try really hard to focus on the positive, but I recognize I’m also a product of my grief. I’ve learned over the years that I have to acknowledge when grief feels particularly heavy. I can’t ignore it away. And when I try to ignore it away, it builds and builds to the point of fueling anxiety. But what happens when I encounter academic failure in the midst of heavier grief moments?

Grief and Failure Collide

planets collidingSometimes I lose myself in efforts to be productive. Other times, I wallow in misery. I have days where grief hits especially hard, and its timing couldn’t be worse. It’s on those days when academic failure feels especially rough. That’s also when Murphy’s Law seems to kick in, or really kick me down. To be honest, academic failure sometimes acts as a trigger, and grief explodes up from somewhere deep inside.

As I mentioned in the previous section, grief is more or less a constant in my life. As I shared in last week’s post, I’ve been experiencing grief connected to my mom’s death. I also lost my brother in 1997. All of my grandparents had passed by 2007. I’ve experienced a lot of loss, and that’s something that requires ongoing processing. That means I’m probably doing that processing when academic failure shows up. Again, it’s hard. Academic failure sucks. Grief hurts. When they collide, holy smokes. But, over the years, I’ve attempted to develop some strategies to help keep me thinking to the future.

Strategies for after the collision

It’s taken me a long time to start to figure out strategies. Burying myself in my work and being super productive is a strategy. But, it’s not exactly a healthy one. As it turns out, that reaction to grief is a diversion tactic. Here’s what I aim to do when grief and academic failure collide:

  1. Acknowledge what’s happening. I need to understand where I’m at emotionally with that experience.
  2. Sit with the pain that comes. Attempting to squash the hurt only prolongs the inevitable.
  3. Allow myself to be sad, both for past grief, and for the current mode of academic failure.
  4. Do something different. And I don’t mean work on a different article, or change up my vita. This is where woodworking become especially important for me.
  5. After I’ve attended to the items above, and allowed some time to pass, I think about next steps. The next steps aren’t just about rebounding from the academic failure, but thinking about how to continue to process the grief.

As much as I’d like to say I always follow those five steps, I don’t. At times, each number of the list is its own strategy. You might notice I don’t have talking to someone on the list. I’m a private person (despite sharing more and more on this blog), and it’s only been in the last few years that I openly talk about my experiences with loss and grief. I have learned, though, that by sharing my experiences, others feel more comfortable to talk to me. And I’m good with that. If you want to talk about your struggles with when grief and academic failure collide, let me know.