Here’s what I learned about moving forward: when you don’t have a map, you have to make one from scratch. But you don’t have to make a new map alone. My post-PhD life really started coming together when I found some community and got serious about figuring out what I cared about and valued, who I wanted to serve, what I was good at, and what people might pay me for.
Healing happens when you can start telling the story in a new way.: “X thing happened to me. It was awful. And then I chose to do Y.” This story acknowledges the awful thing that happened to you. It doesn’t take away from the bad thing that happened. X was awful and it still hurts. But in this story, you’ve got agency. You’ve got power. You’ve made some choices.
The grief I felt when I conceded defeat on the job market was the real deal. I cycled through every one of the Kubler Ross model’s stages of grief several times. And as anyone who has been through the five stages of grief knows, they are not really stages at all, but rather suggestions. Grief is a full body contact sport that involves cycling and recycling through the stages of grief, moving forward and backwards and sideways at the most inopportune moments until the heart and soul decide there’s nothing more to be done and they’ve let go. There’s nothing rational about grief and no time table to “get over it.” It’s insanely confusing and consumes massive amounts of emotional resources. Grief is involuntary and wild and frightening.