I have a problem: I tend to live in the future. Before I do something exciting – submit a short story to a journal, start a new project, apply to a cool job – I envision myself months and months later, reaping the spoils of hard work that not only have I not put in yet, but that I haven’t even been told I’m allowed to put in. I get excited about the next five steps before even taking the first. What this adds up to is a real bummer if things don’t work out. The story doesn’t get accepted, the project doesn’t develop the way I want, the job goes to someone else: this stuff not only sucks in the present, it sucks in the future I’ve built for myself as well.
I know what I need to do: I need to reign in my mind a little bit. I need to tell myself to calm down, that there are no guarantees, and that all I can do is try my best. The problem is, I don’t want to overcorrect, because while getting overexcited and being blindly optimistic comes with its risks, it beats what’s on the other side.
It would be nice if you could keep yourself in the present while applying for jobs, but the truth is you can’t, at least not 100%. After all, the point of applying to a job is to build a new future for yourself. You need to be able to look ahead to know if you’re making the right decision or not.
But looking ahead can take two different forms: you can get excited about the potential for success or frustrated by the potential for failure. As I outlined above, imagining yourself successful has some major issues: it can be a real letdown when things don’t work out. But imagining everything that could go wrong results in something far more dangerous. You get jaded. You think, everything’s just going to go wrong anyway, so what’s the point of even trying?
Both options – optimism or jadedness – result in discouragement; it’s just a matter of when. Being optimistic means you might feel discouraged after you put the effort in. Being jaded means you will feel discouraged before you put the effort in. Both can hurt pretty bad. In fact, the discouragement that comes after trying your darndest probably hurts a little worse. But it’s like a stomach bug; it’ll floor you, but only for a little while.
The discouragement that comes along with being jaded is more of a nagging cold; it’s not as debilitating but it lasts way longer, until you don’t know what it’s like to be comfortable and well anymore. You don’t feel like applying for the job because you’re so certain things won’t work out, and since not applying to a job is the only way to guarantee you won’t get it, you prove yourself right, which only makes you feel crummier.
Now, obviously the best way to deal with any major change you’re trying to make is to tamp your expectations, find ways to cope during the initial steps of the process, and look for distractions while you wait for the changes to take effect. But let’s be realistic; you will look ahead from time to time, and that’s fine. Just try to be excited by what you see.