Ever since I graduated with a PhD in August of 2010, I felt like a failure. This isn’t to say I awoke every day and beat myself up about my lot in life, but rather, every time the academic year would begin, I’d be in a physical and psychological slump. It was an energy thing.
It began when I attained my first job at Georgia College and State University in Middle Georgia. Though the actual job was ideal, the location and circumstances were not. Middle Georgia is racist, both explicitly and implicitly; living there was like a step back into the 1950s or 1850s; take your pick. Also, my degreed and experienced husband was never able to get a job there, so we agreed to live apart and see each other on the weekends.
Two years later, a colleague sent me a temporary job at Florida State University, which I applied and interviewed for and took. They “loved me so much” there that they eventually hired me for what I thought was my dream job, a tenure track, assistant professor position in English Education. The problem was again two-fold: institutionalized racism existed and I’d chosen to commute 360 miles so that our family could live together.
Some people can deal with blatant institutionalized racism; I am not one of them. Three years later, I’d decided all of it was too much. I accepted a job elsewhere making twenty thousand dollars less and teaching more classes that weren’t in my niche. The first day of orientation I sat in the bathroom stall and cried. Then, I went to take my ID photo. To this day, my picture shows me as a red, puffy-eyed, hot-ass mess.
I’d failed. But I kept doing all things academic.
At first, I presented at conferences and published in academic journals just in case. I knew I’d need to show my scholarly worthiness just in case I wanted to attain another job at a different type of institution.
“Are you sure you’re done with academia?” one of my colleagues emailed after asking if I wanted to be nominated for some national platform situation.
He and others ignored my answer and continued to co-write and push me on the path we’d all begun.
I published at least once a year and eventually became the chair of a special interest group.
You may be wondering, like my cousin, how someone like me could feel like a failure. Let me tell you. It’s easy to do when you have a strict plan for your life.
When I graduated in 2010, life was laid out. I would find a job as an English Education professor at Prestigious X University. Five years later, I’d be associate professor. Five years after that, full professor. All the while, I’d be publishing my ass off and presenting research all over the world. It’s easy to let yourself down when you’ve got your whole life figured out.
So, each year I wallowed in a slump, while preparing for a just in case situation.
Life became clearer around November 2018. That’s when I met three ladies at a conference in Houston. We each presented our work, which was related to sports media, critical literacy, and diversity.
Afterwards, one of the women said, “We should write something together.”
In January 2019, Lexington Books emailed me with interest in turning my presentation into a book idea. I want to repeat that. I didn’t seek them out. They emailed me. Consequently, I suggested to the other three women that this be the “something” we write together: a book. That led to us creating a call and inviting others to join us.
This month, our book, Stories of Sport: Critical Literacy in Media Production, Consumption, and Dissemination will be released.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Everything is made up, and we can do ourselves a disservice living within made-up rules. Part of the reason I felt like a failure was because I couldn’t see any other way to be a scholar other than what I was told and shown. Those made-up rules clouded my judgment and created my own idea of so-called failure.
Everything is made up, and we can do ourselves a disservice living within made-up rules.kegarland
I didn’t need to work at X University to attain a book deal. I didn’t need to follow a specific trajectory to publish as a scholar. All I needed was to trust my path and do what I enjoyed…writing.
Oh, and I secured tenure at my current institution. It turns out that’s not as important as I thought, either.