Reversal of fortune

June 6, 2013

Earlier this week, I received an email from the president of the university where I work. It sat in my inbox for half an hour as I put off reading it. I knew what it said, you see  – that the denial of tenure decision would stand. It wouldn’t be surprising bad news, but I wasn’t looking forward to reading it again.

Two minutes before my next meeting, I opened the email and read the attached letter, thinking I’d get it over with and then focus on the work at hand with the presence of others as my shield against self-pity. It didn’t say what I thought, what I knew, it was going to say.

The president reversed the provost’s decision to deny me tenure, and as of July 1, I will be promoted and tenured in my current position. No more hoops to jump through, case closed.

This hardly ever happens. Even when the president sets the original decision aside (which is rare), the expectation is that you have to go through an abbreviated version of going up for tenure again – put together a portfolio of your accomplishments, have your Dean arrange for a re-vote, go through another round of proving your worth. Having tenure conferred on you by the president isn’t unheard of, but it’s a bit like a unicorn – no one here has seen it happen before.

It’s also very rare in my set of experiences, that a reversal of fortune is a good development.  I turn it over and over in my mind, trying to find the seams of this most surprising and unexpected thing, trying to figure out how it is put together and why it came to me.

It is very good news, and I’m relieved and happy and resisting the urge to smirk when in the company of certain co-workers. But I’m also weary. It’s like that feeling when you finish a big seminar paper that you’ve been writing for weeks and you stay up all night to push it through and then you hand it in, and you never want to see it again but you can’t stop worrying at it with your mind for a while. Decompression. Shock. Exhaustion. I’ve been on the roller coaster a long time, and really I prefer the more predictable and staid Ferris wheel, or even go carts, which are still fast and crazy but at least allow you to steer.

Also, I let go (or at least significantly relaxed my grip) on certain dreams – impending home ownership, a garden space for Teddy, the possibility of another child, places where I’d planned to be in my career – and I can’t just pick them up again. They were only dreams, but they had some solidity to them, somehow, that I had to let dissipate in order to move ahead. Letting go of those dreams felt freeing and right, and I think it made me stronger and helped me know myself better, but now I’m left trying to figure out what I want in my work and outside of it. I am (don’t get me wrong) thrilled to be in this place, but I’m also wondering if this is where I should be.

I’ll settle into my good news eventually, probably even come to rely on it, but I still feel poised for flight instead of safely settled and nesting.

Not that being poised for flight is a bad thing. And there almost certainly will be a party with drink and song and laughter. Celebrations need to be had, especially as this kind of reversal of fortune should be appreciated as much as possible. I don’t expect to see another of its like during my lifetime.



  1. Oh my goodness. Congratulations!!!! It is so good to learn that someone can make decisions with compassion! Because really? How can anyone on that committee imagine that they would have done anything differently if they had been in your situation?

    And if nothing else, it gives you the freedom to go *to* something instead of *away* from it, because you don’t need to stay there forever just because you have tenure. You just get to leave on your on terms, if you want. If you want to put it all behind you (geographically, that is). Or not.

    You can almost do whatever you want, once you know what that is.

    But whatever happens later, congratulations for now!

  2. Congratulations! Awesome. I love unicorns.

  3. Congratulations!

  4. Wow, what a shock that must be! I’m so happy for you, but can totally understand the feeling of “whaaa” you must feel right now. We have been going through layoffs at work, and while I wasn’t impacted this time (fully expecting to be), some of my co-workers were, and were saved at literally the last possible second…just when they had their desks all packed up, computer access set to be turned off, unemployment “waiting weeks” started…probably had grieved and were ready to face unemployment. Crazy making, these roller coasters. I hope that, for you, this means some of those dreams you had let go of can become a reality now!

  5. I’ve been wondering of some cryptic comments you made about an ax meant this happened. Congratulations! And if it isn’t where you should be, you can decide that in a very different fashion than you would otherwise. And trying to figure out what you want in life is terribly unsettling, but also a good thing.

  6. Oh wow! Like Sara, I had been wondering if those status updates meant something along these lines.

    And everybody is allowed a little smirk or two once in a while. Particularly when they are tucking a unicorn under their arm!

    As wildlillies says, you now have the distinct advantage of being able to leave on your own terms at at time of, and to a destination of, your choosing.

  7. Wow. Congratulations! How lovely to get a happy surprise once in awhile.

  8. Wow! Sudden reversals of fortune are unsettling, even when they are good turns. I’m glad that your university is recognizing the quality of the work you do, and I hope this is the start of a nice long run of good things coming your way.

  9. Wow, that’s amazing! So good to know that someone (and someone high up) has recognized the value you bring to your job. I understand the mixed feelings… but I agree with Wild Lilies — if & when you leave, the decision will be yours to make, not something that’s imposed on you, and that has to feel good.

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