When I was in sixth grade, I ran for student council vice president. After a crazy month of covering the hallways in campaign signs, it was time to hear the results of the vote count. As we sat in the principal’s office waiting to hear the results, a teacher cautioned us, “Prepare to lose.”
At the time this seemed like sensible advice. Statistically speaking, most of us were going to lose. Better to be expecting disappointment and possibly be pleasantly surprised right? So although I was disappointed that I had not won, I felt like I had done the best thing I could to mentally prepare myself for this.
I lived much of my adult life with this mindset. I interviewed for a job where they told me that there would likely be a job offer, but I was prepared for the possibility of it falling through. I tempered the emotional high that I would have felt if it were a sure thing, and I was happy that I had a backup plan when things didn’t go as expected.
At this new job, things went wonderfully, but I was always looking ahead for things that might go wrong, not allowing myself to get too comfortable. So when those things actually happened, I was not as disappointed as I could have been.
My career continued in this fashion, preparing for the worst, then not being overly surprised when it happened. I learned to keep my expectations “realistic.” But at the same time, I found that my focus on the worst case scenario kept my confidence low. I didn’t take many risks, because I was focused on the possibility of losing my income.
The turning point happened during the pandemic. I was constantly stockpiling food, in case there were a survival situation where we were unable to get more. I soaked up doomsday stories, preparing for every possible bad outcome. When I went back to work, I was so, so careful, wearing and N95 all day and changing and showering as soon as I got home. I was fixated on the worst case scenario–that I would get very sick from the virus and spread it to others.
Long before I actually caught the virus, I encountered an opportunity at work. I had been working as a teaching assistant, and the teacher in charge of our team unexpectedly resigned. I applied for the position, then began my usual process of preparing for it not to happen. Maybe someone has a friend who is going to get the position. Maybe nobody sees me or would even consider me. Maybe my past trauma from my previous job would be a reason not to hire me. All of these scenarios were far fetched, but as I fixated on them, I began to feel as if they had happened. And this, of course, made me very angry, because it would be horrible if any of those scenarios were true.
Then I stopped. I was so tired of worrying and fixating on negativity. I was so tired of giving all of my energy to horrible things that had not happened. I was tired to never celebrating until something was perfectly safe and secure.
And so I celebrated. Of course I would get the job. I was a special education teacher with 15 years experience. It is very rare for someone to last that long in this field. I am likable and excellent at leading a team. And this opportunity was too perfect. It was my dream job, set right in my lap. It was a God thing, a Universe thing. Whatever you want to call it, it was meant to be.
I let myself fully experience the feelings of joy over returning to teaching and landing the perfect job. I told my friends, and I knew that the traumatic experience I had been through at my old job, did not define me. I foolishly refused to consider any other outcome.
One morning I felt the urge to check my email before I left for work, and I saw that an interview was scheduled for that day. I knew that getting the job was a sure thing, and this was just a chance for me to demonstrate my knowledge and experience, and for the team to see what I already saw–that I was the perfect fit.
The interview went flawlessly, and I was authentically me. The next Monday, I woke up feeling grateful and sent a text to one of my friends, reflecting on how far I had come over the past 5 years. Shortly after I arrived at work, I was offered the new position, and I excitedly accepted.
Of course, the inevitable question is, what if I had not been offered the position? Wouldn’t it have been better to have been prepared for that?
My answer is that if I had “prepared” for the worst, I would have mentally gone through the scenarios where the worst could have happened, and most of those involve doubting my worthiness or expecting unfairness. I did consider the unlikely chance that someone more qualified that I would get the position, but I knew that was unlikely so I did not dwell on it. I would learn a lot from such a person, so it was still a win-win.
Fixating on the worst and not allowing the celebration from the beginning, led me to fixate on my unworthiness and to expect unfairness. Celebrating early on helped me to see my value and to see the universe as a whole in a rosier light.
Given the choice, I will always try to see the rosy light from now on.