Advent was a time of anticipation. Even though it’s come and gone, I’m not yet done looking to the future—both the immediate and somewhat distant. The anticipation that came during Christmas involved a certain end, well-practiced and familiar: Christmas carols, family meals, bitter cold. The wait was hopeful, and the future was clear.
Now I find myself waiting for something unlike anything I have ever anticipated. After submitting a heap of cover letters and essays, the time has come for me to interview for my pre-doctoral internship. I’m fortunate enough to have several interviews, which means several possible futures. The process works in a somewhat similar fashion to matches for medical residencies. I apply to a set of sites, and they decide whether or not to interview me. From there, I create a list of my rankings, and each of the sites place me on their rankings. If the numbers align, I get matched with a site. It’s a one-year placement, but it’s been aggrandized as a career-altering experience that is the sole definition of one’s worth as a professional. Of course this is a myth, but my mind can’t help but latch onto these kinds of thoughts. At the same time, it’s a thrilling opportunity to bring all of my hard work to a grand finale. My mind has become a vicious Newton’s cradle, cracking and smacking back and forth between terror and thrill.
Am I good enough?
I’ve worked so hard for this!
How do I trick them into thinking I’m qualified?
Seriously, why wouldn’t they want to train me?
Click, clack, click, clack.
It’s not the best way to experience anticipation. I have felt incredible support from friends, family, classmates, and my incredible wife. Even so, this position has been the point in the distance ever since I began graduate school. Shrouded in myth, internship was spoken of in the same way people talk about Voldemort: they act as if it’s taboo, but they all secretly love to spread their anxiety and feel a bit naughty.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Oh, well, you know, I’m… (incoherent mumbling)”
“I’m, well, applying to internship.”
“Gasp! The thing-that-must-not-be-named!”
Others talked about it with full, uninhibited vitriol.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“GET AWAY FROM ME I’M APPLYING TO INTERNSHIP”
I took the tact of using vague, disingenuous conversation-stoppers to simultaneously avoid coming off as haughty and to escape the fear that would accompany an honest response.
“Hey Matt, how are you?”
“Oh, you know. I am me.”
“You know, just living.”
“Oh, you’re applying to internship, right?”
“Yeah, it sure is something.”
The weird part about this fear is that it isn’t really concrete, and it only peeps in for fleeting moments. It’s not fear of failure, necessarily, but a lack of clarity. Because there is so much of this that stretches beyond my control, I resorted to pushing my thoughts away in order to delay a confrontation with confusion. But recently, I’ve seen the joy in the fog.
This joy comes from letting myself imagine, from allowing myself to wonder.
I wonder where my wife and I will order take out from way more frequently than we should. I wonder what my office will look like. I wonder what new things I’ll learn from my supervisors. I wonder where the best local craft beer is.
I wonder if anyone will want to train me. I wonder if I’ll get in an accident and miss the interview. I wonder if I should’ve applied to other sites.
Normally, with a Newton’s cradle, when one marble clacks, another solitary marble joins it. So by trying to cancel out the stressful thought by adding an extra happy thought, I would actually end up with an additional fearful thought. Click click, clack clack.
But what I’ve found is that it’s not helpful to heap on artificial positive thinking. It’s to instead let go and imagine. If a scary thought comes up, I just keep imagining whatever comes to mind. Sooner or later, an image of my wife and I playing with our daughter pops in, and the fear flitters away. Those are the most potent fantasies, the ones where I anticipate the arrival of my daughter. Already, the sweet little girl has given me and my wife smiles that don’t fade, with her fits of kicking and flipping. We’ve wondered aloud together about what she’ll look like, how she’ll treat others, and what kind of person she’ll become. The best part of this wonder is that I have relinquished a desire of control. I just want her to be here, so she can participate in our life.
So for those who are also facing uncertainty, embrace it. Find that point of hope or that source of meaning. Let your imagination wander. Sometimes, you’ll get nightmarish terrors. And sometimes, you’ll get beautiful, creative fantasies that excite and inspire. Click, clack, click, clack…