“Check Up On Your Strong Friends” & Negotiating Feelings of Failure

This school year was hard and somehow I survived!


During the spring semester, I made the idiotic decision to take three classes, complete a teaching internship, serve in a graduate assistantship, present at a national conference (too many times), apply for dissertation fellowships (and not get them–see I lose a lot), complete and defend my dissertation proposal, and try to have a life.

L. O. L.

Every graduate student in America who reads that is laughing to keep from crying at the idiocy. It was a bad decision, and one I’ve certainly learned from… And now I know the word NO is a complete sentence and I will use it as often as I am able pushing forward.

I don’t write any of this to brag… Seriously, if you’re a student: DO NOT BE LIKE ME, BE  BETTER THAN ME. But in the process of all of this, I have also managed to support several friends with job applications, reading things they’ve written from grant applications to dissertations and book chapters, donating money/time, and generally being a support system for people around me because that’s what I’m supposed to do. Not only that, these are things I love to do. Since latching on to the moniker childfree, I think some people may have inadvertently assumed I’m not nurturing, supportive, etc.,but the labor I’ve (tried) to put into my friendships would certainly suggest otherwise and I am happy with that. Shoot, I even recently provided resume assistance to a young woman who has disrespected me in an online space because I thought it more important to help a Black woman get a job than to worry about my feelings and ego.

But as of late, I have found myself wondering what support means and looks like for me.

I saw a tweet the other day that said something to the effect of “Check On Your Strong Friends” and I felt both seen and invisible when I read it. I believe the tweet is circulating due to a Royce Da 5’9 album, but this concept isn’t new. I grew up knowing my mother was a strong woman (strong friend to others). In our lives, this often meant she carried on even when things hurt, even when she needed a break, and even when she didn’t have it to give, she’d still try and offer.


In thinking about this tweet and why it has been weighing so heavily on me, I’ve wondered how many people in my life consider me to be a strong friend. I have listened as people praised me for pressing through my degree despite heartbreak, as people assume I have it together because they saw my name on some sort of conference material, and even as people unintentionally downplay my concerns around dating as a Black woman with a (soon to come) Ph.D.

Being a strong “friend” means I never want to actually talk about the roots of my problems and what’s really going on because I don’t want to bother people. But receiving a text, phone call, email, something showing a modicum of thought beyond “can you help me with” can be seriously affirming.

I write all of this to say–do heed to the advice of checking up on your strong friends.

Sometimes we suffer in silence because we wrongly believe no one cares about what we’re going through. Sometimes we fail to tell the whole story out of fear or frustration because we believe we “should have seen it coming”. And sometimes, we don’t know when we’ve internalized something and only our friends can force us to confront it by looking in the mirror.

Where people have seen strong, I’ve felt failure. Every good thing I’ve done over the last few months (and school year more broadly) has been overshadowed by things I’ve failed to do or have done–

  • I accidentally hurt someone I was getting to know and have come to like
  • I got my feelings hurt trying to date and nearly internalized that I should have seen it coming
  • I never heard back from a pre/postdoc I should have been competitive for (don’t worry, I’m reassessing and thinking about ways to improve myself/ my work)
  • I’ve only lost 15 pounds despite feeling like I obsess over every. single. thing. I put into my mouth
  • I failed to submit some writings for publications that should have gone out a long time ago
  • I didn’t get to take my mother on a birthday trip
  • I didn’t get to take my sister on a birthday trip
  • A former friend stole money from me and I couldn’t bring myself to have them charged, but I’m still harboring anger about it
  • Someone I trusted used me/ information about me to get ahead
  • I never sent thank you cards to people who deserved them although they’ve been sitting on my desk forever
  • I’ve been walking around as a shell of myself

Some of this is my fault. Some of it is directly tied to my relationships with other people, but in the midst of all of this, I would have preferred to feel like someone was there to check up on me (aside from Laila) and make sure I was okay. I know that I made a decision to go to graduate school and that I asked for this life, but the school things I can manage. It has been the personal moments of failure and frustration that I’ve found most difficult to navigate and simultaneously felt like there was no one there to listen. Let your strong friends know you’re willing to be an ear or lend a helping hand. Being a strong friend doesn’t make us invincible.

So, please, help a strong friend out when you can by checking up on us…


  1. I think we all want to be perceived as someone who has it all figured out. We want to put our best selves out there but there are times when we all fall short. I appreciate your honesty about this. Just because someone might seem to have it all together, they really might not… and that’s ok. It’s ok to not be ok. And it always worth it to simply check on our friends regardless of what their FB or Instagram might illustrate.


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