Change happens in the last minute. I saw it for myself tonight during a UFC fight. Champions are made at the last minute too. 56 seconds till the end. I am not a fan of UFC. Never actually watched a fight until tonight. Two Black men were fighting. One Nigerian, another a Jamaican-born, British guy. The Nigerian Kamaru Usman was leading the first four rounds. We all expected him to win. Then at 4.04, with 56 minutes left, Leon Edwards, used his leg and well, Usman landed on the floor, a clear knockout per the rules of the game. We were all stunned.
I learnt something important though that matters for grant writing. Anything can be changed. Even at the last minute. Anything. And change just maybe the thing that propels you to victory. The goal though, is to stay in front or ahead of that thing that will lead to change for you. If you are going to draft a well-written grant, if it is going to be bold, ambitious, with scary goals focused on changing the world, then you must be prepared to change everything even at the latest minute. I learnt that watching this fight tonight. I intend to keep change at the last minute.
Grant writing is writing full of misery. Suffering, despair, anxiety, pain, torture, even hell. It has taken years to see that this too is a gift, not pleasure. But a gift.
I am on a quest to understand the purpose of this misery and why it matters for writing your best grants.
Not your most successful. Since success depends on humans and we know how fickle we are.
But your best, whether it fails or succeeds. I understand too that these words alone cannot describe the untold misery you will experience with each grant.
But as someone who has failed with so many grants, these days, the pain of each failure, has propelled me to work hard with grant writing. Know too the joys of suffering.
I could easily have stopped after each failure. But rather, I set them aside and worked to understand what I did wrong in other to get better with the next one.
I never expected to know the beauty of failure. Never planned to learn the glory of misery. No one sets out to intentionally play with fire.
But these days, I am dancing under the shadows of the sun. Learning too, the use of misery and why it matters for grants.
Anyone that tells you they love to write grants, often omits all the misery that accompanies it.
It’s this dignity of misery. It’s ability to teach, to re-secure a dream, a vision, or a goal, like a fly trapped, that keeps me longing for it’s ache.
The gentleness of freedom, the hope of mercy, for trapped flies, is the grace I hope you find for yourself with each grant you write.
So the gift, the one great gift that grant writing gave to me, despite all the pain that accompanied each grant I wrote, is openness.
Beyond the misery, with grants you will be receptive to new ideas. Innovations too. Old ways of thinking will gnaw your mind, until they become distant, like golden sunsets.
But mastering this openness comes at a price. Imagination being one of them. I have imagined grants I had no business writing. They sounded good in theory. I still love and stand by them. One of them for example, called sustainable marketplaces and why they matter for health, HIV in particular for many at the base of the pyramid. I was truly open to learn marketing, used novel concepts from the field of entrepreneurship, that reviewers told me over and over to stop wasting time.
I did the moment, I understood the lessons of misery. A lesson repeated often and available to those willing to try new things. Those unafraid of the unknown. Those in search of simplicity with anything, my own being health. And those passionate about lasting. This gift of misery and it use, birthed openness and countless reasons why all my ideas remain possible.
I met fear this past week. Danced around in its oasis. For once, it left me without words. Instead, the words were painstakingly put together as a grant. I spent this week writing what maybe the greatest grant ever written. I know I say this a lot. All my grants are like blue skies on a sunny day. Everlasting, beautiful, great. And this one was different. It took me to the shadows of hell and back. Took me to the center of my fears, the space often hidden and out of view. It made a fool of me. Asked me if I was sure this was the life I wanted. I am so sure. So it proceeded to make a fool out of me. Took me to depths I have never know, knowledge too, I lacked and people, I dare not speak to because words won’t do. I spent the week instead harnessing all the words I knew for this grant. Spent it buried deeply in literature that wasn’t only foreign but truly out of my league. I felt elementary this week. Felt like I needed to get back to a version of school where only blankets were allowed. I found one, black and took it all around the house this week. Took it with me to my desk as it was all I knew, and the floor nearby. If I am being honest, even the thought of a shower or food to eat seemed insurmountable. None of that mattered except the words I was putting together in this grant. All the words hijacked me, took me as a hostage in my own mind, my own space too. Until today.
Early this morning, they finally let me go. Finally let me see the beauty of a day. The rising sun in all its glory. Early this morning I moved beyond fear to a space I will now forever cherish, with a team that is truly unconventional, unconquerable and everything that personifies the word love. We met each other in a space where identities didn’t matter. Just the coming of ideas in ways that bring out the best in the ideas. I dwelled with them through words. Let their words too nourish me like a balm. They helped to soothe the tension in my head for this week that I am still in awe of their love. I still lack the words to speak of the utter grace they all provided for me. My heart is full. Angi’s test will become a reality one day. Only that it started the day fear let me go.
I had a conversation with my mother in-law yesterday. We were talking about work and why I keep getting carried away with one grant after the other. Most of them are also not successful. In other words, you may be carried away with work and still have nothing to show for it. I heard myself say during the course of the conversation that I could go days without eating, if I have to when it comes to writing my grants. It also doesn’t matter if they are all unsuccessful. I also noted that I really don’t know why especially because I don’t need anyone of them. Of course becoming a successful grant writer is wonderful but the stress of it all makes you wonder why even bother. In the course of our dialogue I also framed my reasoning in this way: I don’t need wealth, just sustainable health and healing to all who deserve this right. It has always been for people and how they can have sustainable healing. Writing in this manner is full of sleepless nights and extremely stressful. I still do it because I believe in the cause. If one person can be saved through something I worked to get a grant for, then I will be content. The one I am writing these days is beyond me. I told my partner in writing that I thought we had written difficult grants but this one is something else. I may not get it. But I learnt something new about myself during this process. That I am willing and able to talk to anyone to bring my crazy dreamed up ideas to life, anyone one. That to me is the gift that grant writing keeps giving and for that I am content, win or lose. So to close: I don’t need wealth. Just sustainable health. To all those who deserve this right.
That which is deep within us rises. Through dreams upon dreams, lifts up. Through shrouds of darkness too, continues an ascent. Until unseen visions take to the air, like eagles and soar. I see mountains. No turning back.
My week has been nothing short of chaotic. If I didn’t know I was obsessed with grant writing, well it was made clear this week. I am leading another one and all I want is your prayers, for grace, for strength, for a final version that makes me smile as I watch my cup overflow. That which is deep within me is rising beyond me.
I write slowly. Painstakingly slow. I have been letting the words come. They come really slow. It may seem like I can’t get to the end. I have been told to set deadlines. I do. All the time I have deadlines with my other style of writing. I always meet the ones with the grants I commit to writing. Deadlines aren’t a problem. But for this other style of my writing, the nonfiction side that seeks to challenge the status quo, that writing side is pretty slow. I think it’s because non fiction or even fiction writers don’t often prescribe solutions. We do that a lot in academic/scientific writing. We have a solution for $25k or $10million and if we are good at this grant writing style, you will probably give us that money. And chances are nothing we prescribe will actually change anything. It’s the sad but real truth about academic writing. We are in the business of offering solutions. Impossible and often unsustainable ones. Granted it may work for 705 or even 30 people we follow for 6 months or 12 months after our study ends. But visit those people 4 years later, chances are nothing has changed. And we are probably off to the next grant. That side of writing in my opinion is part of a colonial legacy that has dominated scientific writing for to long. It also has to change.
Recently, a top journal sent out an email asking people to respond to their themed paper on ways to advance racial and ethnic equity in science and health. They especially requested for racial and ethnic groups marginalized or often excluded from publishing to send in their papers. I chuckled. Not only have you excluded these groups from publishing, now you want them to end racism too. The ones you intentionally excluded? Are they god? Do people only see racial and ethnic groups in science as gods?
We are only just coming to terms with the knowledge that finally, racism can be publicly declared as a public health crisis. It was just acknowledged last year, in 2021. Something we have known for too long. And now, one year later, we are supposed to have interventions that end racism, metrics to measure progress, even ways to advance workforce diversity that advances racial and ethnic equity in health. Surely even their gods must be crazy. If you have systematically excluded voices of people and scholars experiencing inequities, if you have not allowed them to be lead authors or even accepted any paper they wrote, how then can you expect them to do the impossible as if they were gods. This is my musing for today, something I wrote as a verse below. Ooh and racial and ethnic minorities in academia cannot end racism we never started. Enjoy below.
Surely we can write, about racism, about its many forms, about the structures that perpetuate racism, about policies and practices too that are racist.
Surely we can write about how racism leads to segregation, leads to violence and incarceration, leads to inequitable access to health, leads to poor quality care, leads to color blindness, leads to systemic bias, and ultimately fails the people it serves. We can do all that with your call for papers. Or we could try truth-telling.
How might the same people, voices unheard of, voices ignored, voices suppressed, or voices excluded, end something they never started? The pernicious effects of racism are not for ignored or excluded voices to address, let alone remedy. All of that is your problem, not ours.
We know the effects of racism. We live it too. No calls for papers will end what we know about it. No selection of papers, peer-reviewed, commitment to anti-racism, will change this one fundamental fact, we are at a crossroads.
The tools we use with writing as we do scientifically are colonial.
Racism has seriously disturbed scientific writing for too long.
We will not survive using your colonial tools. This is after all the oppressors language. The master’s tool. We know this also.
But those of us committed to change will survive.
We will survive.
Not in methods, results or discussions. Not in margin of errors or regression models. Not in p-values or any rigorous statistical analysis.
We will change course and move on. We will drop what we can, forms and styles of writing we can, and continue our journey, our way.
This is our story too. We will write ourselves and the people we serve into history. Our way. With or without you. We don’t need representatives. We don’t even need papers. We will write our stories, write our histories, write our fears, write new frontiers, write until we become clear. Write until we change injustices. Our way.
We have tried to learn your ways. Tried to push back on the misrepresentation that so often defines the people we serve.
Today isn’t our morning.
We have been ready to take on this challenge. Ready to make concessions where we can. Public health critical race praxis is one fine example. Not even your exclusions have undermined what we know.
That even those presumed to have no voice, have voice. Those presumed to have no power, have that too.
And we are doing what is expected of us. Our way.
We know something better than your ways exist. We know the possibilities of light. We are also committed to proclaim like the universe once did. Let there be light.
We told our son that he is a bird. Free to fly far and wide as he chooses. His teacher told him he is terrific. Free to reach for space and beyond. Now I watch as birds reach for outer spaces. I watch as my son becomes a bird.
Writing grants has taught me how to fail 30 times. I look forward to the 31st time. Counting failures is something I do now. Something I embrace too. The hurdles or the joy. The writing. The waiting. The bearing witness to, how things we believe in crumble, for lack of funding. And I have believed in so many things that failed. Poured my blood into missions that ended before they even started. I am learning to love all the pain they entail, all the sadness too, or the weight of each failure. Not because success isn’t better. But more so for the lessons every failure teaches. The doors and unexpected journeys along the way they open too.
I wrote a grant on ways to arise, on ways to let minds often ignored thrive. Failing with that grant broke me down that I became the opposite of what we sought to do. My mind failed me too for awhile. Until I started to see the beauty in failing. See that grant would have changed my life but failing it too has opened new and unexpected doors for me. I expected to scream that we got funding to do great research but now I scream we have no funding, but impactful work continues. In fact the most important work you will do, is the work you do for free. The work you wake up everyday to simply do because you have too. The work you use to connect with each other as humans. The work you do to provide light to dark spaces. My grants are often for the eyes of few people to see. But the most impactful work I have done are free, open and accessible for all to see. It cost me nothing to use words, my words to change people’s life. I may have failed to secure funding for my grants, but every day and through my words, I secure hope that connects us to each other. This is the beauty of failure worth spreading. (ps another grant is being reviewed today as I type this, I may get my wish before next week with my 31st failure. Accepting each one gets better with time).
Hold on to what you know. Hold on to it even if others question you, question what you know. Still hold on to it, for what you know will never disappoint you, disagree with you or deny you too. I am learning that the hard and costly way. This one is a reminder for me.
I have been learning about the art of possibilities lately. Something about radiating possibilities seems inspiring to me these days. I was gifted the book ‘the art of possibilities’ during my program with altMba. I never really opened the book until this weekend. I can’t seem to drop it down. It all started with making preparations for my Tuesday class. We are focusing on fears with grantwriting, including my Rule number 5, or ‘remembering that failure is an option.’ I wanted to update my lecture a bit, to include contemporary prompts that would motivate my students to move beyond fear to accept failure as an opportunity.
The book Radical Candor initially came to mind. I love it’s take on caring personally and challenging directly. I am truly radical with how I approach grantwriting. It shows in the way I grade assignments. Some students like my tough love stance. I say it comes from a place of caring deeply for what they seek to do, with a heavy dose of challenging directly. You are not writing to me is also what I say. I maybe your teacher in this course, but I am also a grant reviewer for NIH. Write to that hat I wear, not your professor. Like I said, some students love it, others, well, let’s just say they get used to it in the end per the reviews I get. I care personally. I am all for bringing out the best in students, not being loved. So radical candor makes sense to me. But that was last year. This year (and not to tone down on radical candor), I wanted to inject a bit on seeing failure as an option, an opportunity, a possibility even. Enter the book by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander below.
From the beginning, we are informed that this is a how-to-book of an unsual kind. I was intrigued. The objective: to help the reader lift off from the world of struggle and sail to the vast universe of possibilities. I was sold. Can a book really do this is all I kept asking myself? Can a book help me harness failure for example as a possibility waiting to be brought to life?
Couple of things I read were truly inspiring and will be tried in my grantwriting class this fall. Like giving the entire class an A from the beginning. It’s radical indeed and the premise is that freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship. All of this is required for success with any grant. Looking back, merely putting a grant together is an automatic A so this makes sense. In the absence of a vision, we are each driven by our own agenda. But when we grant A in all our relationships, grant writing process for example, we align ourselves with others, because the A sustains any life-enhancing partnership.
I am learning that every day. I recently failed with a major grant I wrote. The failure was gut wrenching and it really made me depressed. The failure also happened while my sister in-law was transitioning from this world to the next, so the depression was real. But so to are the steps I am slowing taking to make sense of what I do, make sense of grant writing for example. I may have failed with that grant, but since learning about rule number 5 and giving myself an A for evening putting that grant together in the first place, the possibilities are endless. I am truly sailing to the universe of possibilities and beyond. The failure was excess stone that needed to be chipped away. Doing so slowly, one failure at a time, is revealing the graceful form within what I do. Like a diamond in a rough, I get better with grant writing with each failure. The possibilities are endless when I remember rule number 5. Only a matter of time before all of this makes sense.
In the meantime, I have shared previously that I was taught early in undergrad that research is a viable career path. So most of my junior and senior years were spent earning credits not in lecture halls but in research labs as an undergraduate researcher. All my experience were automatic A. In fact the easiest way to earn A’s in college is to become a researcher for class credits. It propelled me to a universe of possibilities with research. I was able to move for example, from a bachelors degree to a doctoral degree with no masters degree in between, but fully earned A’s as an undergraduate researcher. So I recognize the value of freely giving students an A. Will I try it out? Yes. Will keep you all posted how students react to this at the end of the semester. For now, here is to hoping it lifts my students off into the universe of possibilities with grant writing.