That's kind of weird, I know. But in a curious way, it solved a problem for me.
I applied a couple of weeks ago for a grant that I very much want to be awarded. My chances of receiving it are…decent. Not bad; not great; just okay.
And ever since, two conflicting messages have been playing in my head. One message promotes the importance of self-affirmation. “Believe you can!” it says. “Reach for what you want!”
Well, I do believe I can, or I wouldn’t have applied for the grant, and I did reach for what I wanted when I submitted the application. But that doesn’t assure that I’ll receive it.
And the other message is familiar to every child who has ever entered a contest and been told by a wise and well-meaning parent, “Don’t get your hopes up. Be prepared for a disappointment. Maybe you’d be happily surprised, but at least you’ll be emotionally prepared if not.”
I couldn’t decide which of these two tacks to take, and instead started bouncing randomly between the two. At some moments, I found myself saying, “Put the power of positive thinking into play. Direct the forces of the universe to assuring that you get this grant. Galvanize the positive energy within yourself to make this happen.”
And at other moments, I told myself, “Just don’t think about it. If it happens, great, but it probably won’t, so just put it out of your mind, and also prepare for disappointment.”
Neither belief was quite working for me. So I decided that along with directing positive energy into the universe to propel that grant toward me while also lowering my hopes accordingly and bracing myself against disappointment, I would write myself a preemptive rejection, just to see what it felt like.
“Dear Nancy, thank you for your interest in our program. Unfortunately, we have selected another applicant,” I wrote. Then I emailed it to myself.
All day it sat at the top of my in-box, the first words my eyes fell on whenever I looked at my computer screen. And on some level, I began to forget that I had written it myself. I found myself growing accustomed to seeing those words – “Unfortunately, we have selected another applicant” – and I began to feel increasingly comfortable with them.
“Oh well,” I told myself. “It was bound to happen. They selected another applicant. Now on to that article I need to write.” Having those words appear throughout my day made them somehow an ordinary piece of my life, and they lost their hypothetical sting.
Hypothetical is the key word, of course. I haven’t received a real rejection letter yet, nor an acceptance. It might be a week or more before I know either way.
I’m not sure how long I’ll keep that email at the top of my in-box. Maybe tomorrow my belief in positive thinking will prevail and I’ll email myself some encouraging and affirmative words instead, or maybe I’ll succeed in forgetting about the whole thing until a decision is made.
But it made me wonder if I should start writing myself fake letters about other disappointments as well. Maybe I should email myself a pretend court summons, or a letter from my insurance company rejecting a claim. I could email myself a notice that one of the kids had been suspended from school. I could send myself a text from a neighbor saying that our house was on fire.
Okay, that might be a little extreme and surely wouldn’t have the desired effect of making me immune to anxiety and disappointment. I can delete the imitation rejection letter when I get tired of seeing it. Maybe by then I will have received the real thing. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll get an award letter instead.
Either way, I like to think I’ll be well prepared.