How can we challenge ourselves to keep reaching when reality doesn't match our dreams?

We’ve all heard the phrases “go big or go home,” “reach for the stars,” and “dream big” but no one ever really talks about reality.

What happens after you dream big and reach for the stars or go big to not go home?

How can you help yourself stay grounded and give yourself realistic expectations while still challenge yourself to reach?

Time and time again when I would be searching for jobs and reading the “required skills” portion of a job description I would grown anxious and discouraged. I’m not sure how many times I thought to myself, “I don’t have any of these skills. I’m useless! I’ll never find a job.”

Those negative thoughts didn’t get me anywhere other than feeling more hopeless about myself and my employment situation. It took me a while, some self-searching, and some trial and error to figure out what I felt my core strengths were.

Identifying my abilities and skills helped me prepare to apply to more jobs with less trepidation. I also took the time to identify my passion and any hobbies and tried to see if my skills, passion, and hobbies intersected anywhere. At those intersections, I felt I would have the best chance at finding the best fitting job for me.

I also continued to reach—I applied to jobs that I didn’t 100% fit the qualifications for and vocalized that in my cover letters. I acknowledged that I didn’t have a specific skill or degree they were looking for and then steered the focus to the other related skills I could contribute and how my background made me a better fit than another candidate who may have that specific skill they required.

My dad always tells me, “The answer is always no unless you ask. Then it still may be ‘no,’ but you’ll have no doubts about it.”

I may continue to be rejected from these reach jobs, but I am not painting an unrealistic picture in my head anymore. I outline the best reasons, hope for the best, and move forward.

I used to put such high expectations onto every action I took.

When I applied to a “dream job” that I felt I would be the perfect fit for, I would imagine what it would be like to work there and I’d tell myself that I was definitely going to get the job. This line of thinking only left me devastated when I didn’t get a call for an interview, or when I got no response at all. No matter how perfect a candidate you think you are, there will always be outside factors that you have no control of. All you can do is your best. So cliché, I know!

The benefits of changing or realigning your expectations are huge.

For me, I would let my self-doubt limit my applications because I would think “there’s no way I’ll ever get this job. I’m not good enough. I don’t have that specific skill. So why bother?” I missed out on chances and opportunities because I benched myself without ever really trying or reaching. Learning to identify what a dream might be and how to ground my expectations in reality helped me immensely.

Eight months ago, when I decided to apply to grad school, I thought I was going to stay in my current city in New York. I applied to three excellent and hard-to-get-into schools and I hoped with all my might that I would get in. But, I also held onto reality and acknowledged that the programs were small, some accepting only 12 students out of 800 applicants, and I couldn’t lay all my hope on the line.

So I told myself, “I am an excellent candidate but I have excellent peers who are also vying for this spot. If I’m not accepted to any programs it does not mean that I’m a worthless candidate, it just means that someone else was the right fit.”

I also gave myself more options. At first, I wanted to stay in New York City, but after researching graduate school programs, application statistics, and job opportunities in my field, I decided to think outside the box a little and find more opportunities. As much as I wanted to stay in New York City, I wanted to go to grad school more.

I began searching for more programs that would fit my needs in locations that I was excited to potentially live in. I ended up applying to a total of eight schools throughout New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

When it came time for acceptances or rejections to arrive in the mail, I held my breath as letter after letter and email came to me. Yes, I had some disappointments. I wasn’t accepted to six of the eight schools.

I was accepted to two, though, and because I had aligned my expectations with reality rather than fantastic dreams of mine, I was able to see my acceptances with great excitement, possibility, and future adventures rather than focus on six failures of rejection letters.

Things may not always look like you dreamed them to be, but that doesn’t mean reality isn’t just as sweet.

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