Getting Your Hopes Up

I am applying for academic, tenure-track jobs. I had a good interview this week. Great by some standards, but only good the more I mull it over in my head. I think they wanted me to say I would teach non-Western philosophy in my intro class (not a crazy idea, given the particular job posting).

But in any case, I felt very positive about the interview. After I finished, I pumped my fist in the air for a bit and celebrated over beers with some peers. Then I had a choice:

  1. Remove all of the information about this interview out of my life, computer, and mind
  2. Get my hopes up.

I’ve been on the job market before. In every previous year, for every previous job interview (and some mere job applications), I’ve taken option 2. In the past, I’ve had interviews for three very desirable tenure-track jobs: Illinois Wesleyan University, Linfield College, and University of Texas at El Paso. The first two were very desirable for me because I really want to teach in a liberal arts college (I think). The last was in my home town near all of my friends and family. For each of these interviews, I started imagining my life there and looking at home prices near the respective campuses. I didn’t get a second-round interview for any of them, though Linfield and UTEP both expressed how contentious the discussion was and remarked that they wished me luck. [1]IWU hired some white guy from a top program who worked on causation in physics. Linfield hired a different white guy who worked on extinction in evolution. UTEP hired a double-Ph.D. Indian lady who works on everything, I think, but mostly Indian science from 100 years ago.

This year, I’ve had more job interviews than both previous years. Statistically, it’s still not a guarantee at a job and I feel worried about the whole process. But I feel positive. Extremely positive about Friday’s interview: Bryn Mawr. I want to get my hopes up: look forward to possibly moving into the same town as my girlfriend, teach at an awesome college, and love life. But then I think back to the lessons of years past and how hard it hurt when I didn’t get called back for a second interview. All of my dreams and schemes faded away and I felt dumb for having them in the first place.

In a famous philosophy blog, one of the authors remarked:

This is what happens to me every year. I know what the job market is like. I know that there are lots of jobs and lots of applicants, and that the odds of me getting a job are not high, and that for any particular job, the odds of me getting that job are low. I know this.
But then the job ads start coming out. And I see a couple of jobs that seem really attractive. Maybe I know somebody in the department; maybe I’ve been to the city or town and thought it would be pretty cool to live there; maybe it’s close to family or friends; maybe there’s a reason why it would be particularly good for my family; maybe there’s something about the job that I connect with somehow, where I’d be especially well-suited for it, or it would be especially well-suited for me.
And then I can’t help but start to think about what it would be like to get that job. I start to get hope…. a few times, I’ve actually gotten interviews at these places. It is very hard to avoid this hopefulness when you are prepping for an interview with your favorite job from this year’s JFP, or with your favorite job ever.
And frankly, I’m not sure how you’d be able to summon the motivation to apply for these jobs, or to prep for the interview, if you weren’t at least somewhat hopeful that you’d get the job… I see the utility of feeling hopeful. It seems to play a somewhat important role in providing motivation.
But I really don’t like having to let go of these hopes as the season progresses. I don’t like it at all. And so I wish there were a way to avoid it, and then to do without it.

Friday night, a friend of mine remarked,

It’s fun to get your hopes up. Thinking about how good your life could be is fun! You’ll be disappointed either way if you don’t get the job, but you may as well be happy now and plan for how things could work out in the future!

I think the difference between these two sentiments is largely the difference between optimism and pessimism. But the problem is that both of these perspectives are about how you should act, not how your body instinctively acts. And, for some reason, my default condition is to get my hopes up. My default perspective is closer to the first position, though, so even when I get my hopes up, I feel bad about it: “don’t be stupid, Pixel, you’re never going to get this job.” I can’t even feel good about feeling good.

Update (December 16, 2015): Getting one’s hopes up wins! I have a fly out at Bryn Mawr!

Notes   [ + ]

1. IWU hired some white guy from a top program who worked on causation in physics. Linfield hired a different white guy who worked on extinction in evolution. UTEP hired a double-Ph.D. Indian lady who works on everything, I think, but mostly Indian science from 100 years ago.

About Pixel

Pixel Q. Styx refuses to talk about himself. If thou wishest, thou may infer from his blog what thou wishest.
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