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What It's Like to Fantasize About a New Life While Job Hunting With Anxiety

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I open a new tab and type in the first two letters, the auto-fill completing the rest because in a spare moment of each day, I pull up a job board, hoping for new listings. All my recent search history to the left shows off “safe” options, options I’m overqualified for, or don’t require much rearranging of my life.

Every so often though, after going through the usual list, I take a chance and look up specific museums that are categorically “dream institutions” to work at. My heart skips a beat when I see, oh my God, it’s the dream job, and I hold my breath while putting my all into a cover letter.

That’s the start of it all. I don’t think about the interview process or my competition. I don’t stress over how I’ll sound during the phone interview, or what to wear on-site.

It’s nice to finally have some really exciting career news and I can’t wait to start absolutely killing it in this new position.

Fast-forward and I’m looking up Zillow listings and researching the best areas to live in because I don’t know the city that well. I’ve settled on a few places I think we could make work — I just adore the charm that comes with a well-kept, cozy condo and we’ve been meaning to downsize anyway. Hm … no this one won’t do, the grocery store is too far away — wait, is there a Trader Joe’s anywhere close by?

I get used to shopping bags on public transport and even start to enjoy the quiet time of the commute to enjoy an audiobook. After more research and scouring Yelp reviews, I’ve found a good yoga studio. There are a few people in the city I know from school, but haven’t spoken to since college. It’s nice to connect again.

I blink and I’m back staring at my computer, that dream job listing still on my screen. I realize I’ve been holding my breath and take a big exhale. Quietly, I close the tab and get back to my actual life, here, not in some faraway city.

Ever since I can remember job hunting for my first “big-girl” position, I realized I’ve lived a thousand alternative lives, all with different outcomes and timelines. As my actual life progresses, it becomes harder and harder to make that dream of packing up and going for the perfect gig work in my mind, but it doesn’t stop me from falling down the rabbit hole. Because of this, I fall into the trap of reading a listing, jumping to the idea of having the job, what that would mean for my family, how logistically to make it work and by the time I’m checking to see if it would still leave me in an area where a Wawa is close by, I’m too stressed out. Physically, metaphorically, closing that browser tab and keep moving on for something more practical.

A while ago, I wrote about what my dream job is anyway, having never really considered it in an adult sense. And while I think there is a time and a place to dream big, as well as take safe options, I need to not fall into the trap of living an alternate lifetime over and over and over again. Because one day when the right thing comes up, either where I am or some faraway place, I’ll let the autopilot take over, and my anxiety will talk me out of it.

One of my favorite stories as cliche as it is, is “The Great Gatsby,” which warns its readers dreaming won’t necessarily lead to despair, but chasing an unworthy dream will lead to tragedy. Maybe it’s not the job that is worthy of dreaming and investing all that energy in, maybe the thing to dream in is ultimately myself. That seems like a worthy dream.

A version of this story was originally published on Medium.

Unsplash image by Bonnie Kittie

Originally published: March 17, 2020
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