The Anticlimax: When Reality Doesn’t Meet Expectations
Well guys, I did it.
I presented at my first major conference. And I have to say it felt…nothing like I expected it to. I had all these expectations, but life had other plans.
Sure, I had fun. I spent time with friends and connected with people I’d never actually met but who felt like friends thanks to the power of social media. I got to spend some time sightseeing in DC, I got to meet my new baby cousin, and I attended some amazing lectures. But this conference was supposed to be more than that. It was supposed to be this huge accomplishment, and it didn’t feel that way.
In fact, yesterday after I was done, I found myself suddenly gripped by anxiety. It wasn’t because I was beating myself up over some mess-up—perceived or real. I feel pretty good about how I did. The lectures weren’t perfect, of course, and I have a few things I know I need to work on for next time (like not letting the fast-talking New Yorker in me take over and buzz through the material in half the time it should have). So why did I feel so…empty?
Maybe it was the fear that what I’d said wouldn’t have an impact.
I mean, that’s why I was up there—because I want to have a positive impact on the veterinary community and make a difference in this profession.
Perhaps it was because I was the last lecture of the conference so almost everyone I knew was gone. And the few that hadn’t already left, had to rush off pretty quickly to catch their flights. I’d just achieved this monumental goal of mine and as I stood there in the practically empty convention center, the word “anticlimactic” seemed like an understatement. I’d just done the thing I’d been working my tail off on for the last six months and there was nothing left to do but…go home.
Or maybe it was because I’d just done the thing I’d been working my tail off on for the last six months and there was nothing left to do but go home. When you spend so much time on something, when you work so hard for so long, and then the work is gone, what’s left to fill its place? Will I get another opportunity like this again?
Why am I confessing this to you here?
It’s not because I’m looking for positive reinforcement or external validation. I’m good—I promise. And I’m not giving up on this speaking thing any time soon.
But the truth is, this feeling is one I think a lot of you might be able to relate too—especially you new grads. You’ve worked your tail off for years to get that DVM. You had all these expectations for what it would mean to become a veterinarian. And now that you have, you might find yourself wondering why it doesn’t feel better. You got your diploma, you threw your cap in the air, maybe you even had a graduation party. And then…?
Suddenly you’re a doctor but you don’t really feel like one. You’re not suddenly imbued with confidence and knowledge that you didn’t have at the end of clinics. You don’t walk around with balloons and confetti following you everywhere you go. You don’t wear a sandwich board that says “I’m a doctor, ask me how.” You’ve accomplished something amazing. And in the movies, that’s where the credits would roll.
But we’re not in the movies and this isn’t where it ends. And once the high wears off, the world keeps on turning and you keep on moving forward.
And yes, your friends and family will congratulate you and tell you how proud they are of you. A few clients will make it a point to thank you for what you do. But mostly, it will just be you, going about your life trying to find meaning and fulfillment. And sometimes, life will fall flat of the expectations you had. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t do something awesome. It doesn’t mean you chose wrong. And it doesn’t mean you failed at your dream.
It’s okay to feel like your excitement and excitation was for naught.
But when reality doesn’t live up to the expectations, you keep going anyway. Because happiness isn’t about the big moments. It’s about all the little ones along the way.