Is there a Value in Aiming High?

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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.

33 thoughts on “Is there a Value in Aiming High?

  1. Gulara, my initial reaction on just seeing the title of your post was, why aim low?! I think it’s great you aimed for Oxbridge, why not – but then you changed your mind for very good reasons. I always aim high – just to see what happens. When I finished university and started out in journalism I started by writing to the BBC, The Times, etc. I had no expectation of a job with them but thought, why not. As it was I did get some lovely letters back, offers to send in examples of work. In the end I got a job with a regional paper as I’d expected but I never regretted started out aiming high. As for your agent, why not try?? Somebody has to be one of those 1 or 2 taken on. It might be you. If not, then you’ve prepared a pitch to send on elsewhere. Best of luck and warmest wishes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a great experience you shared here, Annika, I really appreciate your input (and I’m relieved it’s not just me :D) I think for me the key to take action and then surrender to the process completely. I’ve lived long enough to know that things that didn’t happen were for the better. Many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with Annika. No you have, you might get surprised and get a yes. You can always still decline an offer, a contract until it’s a signed deal 😉
    As always, fingers crossed for you! XxX

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Patty, we’ll see. I know that this book has the life of its own and it’ll take the shape it needs when the time is right. Meanwhile, I need to take action to help this happen. Fingers crossed 🙂 xxx

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Good luck! The older I get the more I look at things that I may have thought out of my league and think, why not? And even if it doesn’t work out, so what, at least I’ve tried. And it only takes one opportunity to completely change your fortunes – got to be in it to win it though!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i suppose my approach is a bit more mixed; i have aimed high even if sometimes it’s others who have been behind the aiming and on occasions completely amazed myself how things have worked out. With my writing now I aim high in the sense of the quality of what I produce; it’s revealed a streak of perfectionism I didn’t know I had. But in publishing I’m content with indie, not because I think it’s better, though there are pluses, but because it is quicker and gives me complete control over content. But within this there remains a sense of not aiming as high as I perhaps should by not trying to trad publish any. Maybe I’m deluding myself but it’s often down to how you feel rather than an objective assessment of what has happened.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s always down to how we feel, Geoff, whether we acknowledge that or not. Thank you for sharing your experience. I had the same dilemma around speed versus trad publishing, but in the end, I realised the indecisiveness was really stifling my progress, so I opted for finding an agent and if not, there’s always other options. Thank you for your comment, I appreciate your input.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Feeling depressed when we realize our goals may be harder to achieve than anticipated can happen. But, aiming high is packed with advantages. It’s just like you said, in preparing your applications at the Oxford level, you raised the bar and the quality of your work improved. There is NO problem with high expectations. We get one life to achieve our goals. We owe it to ourselves–and the universe that produced us–to thrive. But, if sometimes those goals are not achieved, we also owe it so ourselves to take pride in the many things we DID accomplish.
    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the “Hero’s Journey” outline used many novelists. In the last half, the outline details a supreme ORDEAL: a moment at which the hero touches bottom. It could be argued that after coming so far in your “writer’s journey” you’re facing the possibility of death, (OR merely not being published by your selected agent) brought to the brink in a fight with a mythical beast (otherwise known as author insecurity). 🙂
    But, the hero always prevails. Because they’re out there in the trenches, working their tail off, like you. Whether you land this agent or not, don’t let the success of failure distract you from the amazing things you’ve accomplished this far.
    Keep raising the bar!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Aw, thank you so much, your comment makes me want to sing (because I feel happy) and I love the analogy. And here’s the thing, this particular hero has some magical skills 😀 It’s called the Compassion Key which helps to clear all the disappointment of rejection and to stay on course. 🙂 I really appreciate your comment, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I also tend to aim high, Gulara, with mixed results. The first story I ever sent out, I chose the New Yorker! Of course, I didn’t even get an answer. Rejections have taught me a lot, and I like to think I’m improving, but they are hard to take, mostly. I’ve also decided to try trad publishing, first, if only to make sure I don’t put something out there that’s not ready…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m doing it for the same reasons, Marina. And you right, rejections are hard, but they teach us and at best of times, they can encourage us to improve on our work. I look at my earlier drafts and think – thank God they rejected it back then. It would have been a very different story…. Many thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your input.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Go for it, Gulara! You have nothing to lose, except a bit of time and you ego might feel bruised if you’re rejected. An experienced author told me to first pitch to the agent about third or fourth on my list, the reason being that even if they reject you, they might give you feedback so you can fix your manuscript, or change your pitch. Then, by the time you reach the agent at the top of your list, your manuscript and pitch are perfect. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? *sigh* If only it was …

    Liked by 3 people

    • I haven’t got a list, Louise 🙂 I know I should, but I got the name of this agent in a rather round-about way (I thought of the author I love, checked who represented him, looked through the profiles of agents and voila 😀 ) I bet there’s more systematic way of dealing with this issue. But anyway, it’s interesting that I wasn’t aware of this tendency of mine. It was you who mentioned it in a comment a few weeks ago. 🙂 Thank you for being so observant, and yes there’s no denying it, I just go for it, and then it happens the way it meant to. I just need to let go of attachment to the outcome. *just* 🙂 Hope all is well with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Gulara, I’m applauding your successes and your stick-to-it-ness. You are a GREAT example! I totally agree with Louise’s comment that you should “Go for it” when applying for an agent. Wonderful things will come your way!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I think that aiming high is good. For ourselves to start with. Being demanding with the quality of what we are writing for example. Then, of course we’ve got to be realistic. Competition is huge now days. Agents and editors receive tons of submissions. They can only take a few. Luck then can play a role. Being there at the right time for the right person. I have the feeling that you’ll find representation and sell your story. That’s my wish for you, in any case.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I think there’s always a value to aiming high. It gives us something to work toward. We’ll always be further than where we started. Good luck with your agent hunting. 🙂 Please let us know how it turns out. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Interesting question. Aiming high is subjective. I strive, but to other people my [modest?] successes might look like nothing. Yet to me I’ve succeeded beyond my dreams. That being said, I think a vital component in being able to aim high is the ability to deal comfortably with failure. To be resilient. To be able to say “oh well, whatever” and then keep going. If you can’t do that, then aiming high is going to be a constant anxiety-producing goal, it would seem to me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think it can go either way: it can be demotivating to get all the rejections and it can be life-affirming, if one gets lucky. To be honest, like with many things in life, it’s a bit of a gamble. We don’t know until we do things and give them our best shot.
      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing.

      Like

  12. Oh boy does this hit home! As you may have read, I recently applied to graduate school to work on my PhD, which was frightening enough. I’d applied before and been denied. So, I was freaking out about re-applying, given my previous lack of success. Though, I knew I wanted to work on a PhD and I buckled down this time, spent months preparing for my applications. I even thought, what the heck, I’ll apply to Cornell (one of the best universities in the country), because the way I saw it was: what the heck. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I applied? I might be denied, but… what if I was accepted? There is always risk in the things we do, but isn’t the risk worth it? To try and fail simply allows us to learn from our mistakes so that we might succeed when we try again. At least, that’s the way I’ve chosen to start looking at things because opportunities may fall into your lap, but not taking them is just as bad as if they weren’t there.

    Thanks for the inspiration and I wish you the best of luck with your agent hunt!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I have one high aim and one “attainable” aim. I want to reach one person with my writing. No time limit. Just one person. It happens and I reset that goal. Once I had several hundred from one essay. Often I have none. That’s okay. I’ve touched one life so I’m already a winner. A bigger goal is to have my brand well-known. Not necessarily on a massive public scale, but to be offering tools that will last beyond my lifetime and have someone hear my name and say, “Oh yeah. She was a trauma writing coach, right?” Or something along those lines. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You put this so beautifully, Shawna. You are doing so much good raising awareness about trauma. Yes, we touch one life at a time, but I have a sense that you are well on your way of leaving an important legacy behind. I love your title; it’s very clear what you do (I wish I could come up with something like that), but to me you are trauma re-writing coach, because my voicing these things, you are helping others to re-write their own stories.

      Like

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