After all, doesn’t aiming high create unrealistic expectations, which in turn leave us aching with disappointment and low self-esteem?
Possibly. And I have a different perspective on this.
In 2008, a mere two years into my PhD programme, I started to apply for academic posts. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I had two destinations in mind: Oxford or Cambridge. I know, right, a bit insane, but I had my reasons (it’s another story, perhaps I’ll tell you some other time). Believe it or not I was invited to have an interview at Oxford University after the first application. It was a teaching contract for a year, and I couldn’t believe my luck, so much so that I freaked out and didn’t go. The decision was partly based on some sound advice I got from a head of the Law School at Birmingham: yes, teaching at Oxford is a great opportunity, but it will distract you from completing your PhD and that’s your key priority. He was right of course: my PhD was funded and I didn’t know what may happen if I took up the job; more importantly, my visa depended on my PhD. So all in all it was a right decision for me to decline the interview; besides, having an interview didn’t guarantee getting the job anyway. My change of heart just saved me a lot of stress.
After that small but significant success, things didn’t go well with applications anymore: I didn’t hear anything back from Oxbridge, but I got interviews at my home institution every year. I didn’t get a job until 2010 because my confidence levels were pretty low, but eventually it all came together. I am happy where I am and my drive to get into Oxbridge died back, because I realised it was part of an old pattern: to prove that I’m good enough I was willing to climb the highest mountain.
In some ways, the process served me. Getting a job at Birmingham wasn’t too difficult, partly because I aimed my applications at the Oxbridge level.
Why I am telling you this now?
I’m looking for an agent. I found a good one the other day, and then got a bit depressed when I read her interview from back in 2012. She said she received 150-200 proposals every week, and she took on… brace yourselves… 1 or 2 clients per year! My first impulse was, well, why bother? What are the chances of her picking my manuscript? But then I remembered my trials and tribulations with job applications in the past and it occurred to me that maybe I just prepare my proposal aimed at her and then take it from there. Needless to say I need tons of luck. Oh, and of course, I have a Plan B, C and possibly the rest of the alphabet too.
What about you, dear readers? Do you aim high, and if so, what’s your experience? And if not, then what gets in your way? I’d love to hear from you.