Failure and first-world professional grief

As predicted previously, I found out at the beginning of April that my first attempt at Fellowship failed. I didn’t, however, anticipate how much it would hurt.

  1. The feedback said that I was working at the appropriate level to achieve FCLIP status BUT my portfolio didn’t reflect that. In effect, I’d gone into the exam and written everything I knew but didn’t answer the questions properly.
  2. My evaluative statement (of the three sections, only Organisational Context – the one that everyone else seems to find most difficult – was good enough) went through five versions, plus tweaks, before I submitted my portfolio. I now know that every single one of those versions was wrong. I can forgive version 1 as it was the first attempt, designed to loosen my mental block about Fellowship. However, I spent five months – hours and hours of time and effort – writing, refining and re-writing an evaluative statement that was doomed to fail.
  3. I’m at a crossroads in my career. After 10 years in my current role I’m ready to move on (I’m not spilling secrets here; they know) and I still have to write Fellowship (ongoing) on my CV.

When I was told that my submission had failed I cried. For an hour. I was given a packet of ten tissues. At the end of the hour there was one tissue left. I wasn’t just crying about Fellowship. I cried because I’ve worked so flipping hard over the last ten years, often at personal cost. I cried because my children will be going to secondary school in September. I cried because I need something to work out without having to take the hardest road possible and show how bloody resilient I am. Again. I cried because, well, I’m a bit of a dick really.

I’ve been through several stages of…first-world grief…I suppose. I was sad. Angry. ‘Sod it I’ll become a nail technician’. Furious. ‘I’m a failure at all things and I wish I could do one thing well’. Resigned. ‘I am hopeless and unemployable’. Tired. Determined. ‘I need to get over this, pick myself up, and go again’. World weary. ‘I’m shit at running/librarianing/all the things just like I’m shit at everything else’. Self-defeating. Full-on drama llama. ‘Why do I do this to myself?’ I have been advised against appealing the decision because it won’t change and I can’t see the point.

(I have extensive feedback for CILIP on the whole Fellowship process, which I’ll submit via the proper channels and might blog here about it at some stage. It *shouldn’t* be such an onerous, you-need-to-know-stuff-you-aren’t-told-in-the-handbook slog.)

At no point have I really, seriously, thought about not resubmitting my portfolio. The phrase ‘You are working at the appropriate level for Fellowship’ from the feedback has stayed with me. I have started doing the things I need for version 2.0.

  1. Mentor – I have a new mentor (Kate R) and I have a feeling she simply won’t allow me to fail second time.
  2. Supporting letters – The guidelines state that you need a minimum of two supporting letters. I now have eight (cheers Mike, Natasha, Sally, Anthony, Matt and Val, plus the original two I submitted first time.)
  3. PKSB – I had a Skype chat with Juanita and my rage resurfaced – not at Juanita; she’s amazing – but at how wrong I’d got the evaluative statement, particularly the Personal Performance section [side note: this is going to make me a shit-hot Chartership mentor]
  4. Pulling my old portfolio apart and putting it back together again. I couldn’t face even logging on to the VLE to start with because I knew how painful it would be. It was awful, especially now I know what I need to do with it (set fire to the original; start again.)

I’m now working on version 2.0 of my evaluative statement and portfolio, with all the new advice and support fresh in my mind. The ingredients are there; I just need to put them back together in the correct order. Failing Fellowship first time hurts, but it’s not the end of my professional world.

At some point this year (with a little help from my #LibraryFriends) I’ll be able to write FCLIP (achieved 2019) on my CV.

7 thoughts on “Failure and first-world professional grief

  1. Jo, thank you so much for sharing this. These kinds of things happen to a lot of us but it takes a huge amount of courage to write so honestly and openly about it. I know you’ll smash this the next time around.

    I also very much hope that CILIP takes your feedback seriously – there’s absolutely no justification for the process to involve “you-need-to-know-stuff-you-aren’t-told-in-the-handbook”, and no one should have to suffer from this.

    You were a shit-hot Chartership mentor however many years ago it was that you were mine, so I can only imagine how awesome you are now!

    • Thanks Emma 🙂 I hesitated about writing and publishing this post because I didn’t want my two current mentees to think less of me. However, both have been in contact to thank me for being so honest. You were a pretty great mentee too 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this Jo. I was awarded my Fellowship in November, but your post will prompt me to reflect on what would be done to help improve the whole caboodle … (and share with CILIP.)
    I found it a more isolating process than it possibly needs to be. More Fellowship specific guidance would help to counter the sense that you are wandering around in the dark by yourself, hoping you are doing the right stuff! Best of luck.

    • Thanks Ruth. Congratulations on achieving FCLIP. I have quite a few thoughts on the process and the lack of clarity around expectations, that I will send to CILIP if/when I pass and will post a version on here, too. I know other people set up informal FCLIP support groups but I knew they wouldn’t work for me as I’d feel like I was lacking somehow in comparison (and I’m insanely competitive…) I know CILIP are looking at the guidance with a view to improving it, but anything you can send them would be really helpful, I think.

  3. Thank you for your honesty.
    On a much smaller scale and back in the last century, I can still remember how I felt when I had my chartership portfolio bounced back with a request to write an additional 500 words on an issue in a sector outside of the one I was working in. I was so angry at the process and my failure to negotiate it successfully on the first attempt. If I could talk to ‘past me’, I hope that I’d be able to come up with a brilliant pep talk around learning to embrace ‘failure’ as a natural part of development…

    • I can understand your frustration. I think it’s the ‘Hidden’ stuff that you aren’t told in the handbook but are somehow expected to know, that really frustrated me. I think it’s important that we’re honest (publicly) when things don’t go right because it demystifies the processes a little. I have a post ready (if/when I finally achieve FCLIP) that offers advice to professional registration candidates, particularly for Fellowship, as I feel that people need a bit of extra advice and support.

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