Optimism’s Underworld: Unrealistic Expectations

English actress Kate Beckinsale.
Image via Wikipedia

I’m going to share a secret with you, internet: I’m a big Kate Beckinsale fan, and have been since the first Underworld movie came out in 2003.  So, when I found out that the 4th Underworld movie – New Dawn – was being filmed at SFU this past week, and that Kate was in a starring role, I got pretty excited (as many of my coworkers can confirm).  I got to daydreaming about seeing her around on campus, or during scene shoots (of which I unfortunately wasn’t able to stick around for), and imagined what I might say to her if our paths crossed.  I may or may not have taken a few extra walks around campus on the days they were filming here, you know, just in case she happened to be wandering around.

Which brings me to the point of this entry: unrealistic expectations.

At the risk of contradicting points that I’ve made in previous posts about optimism and positive attitudes, I’d like to outline some differences I see between optimism and unrealistic expectations.

Optimism Unrealistic Expectations
Fosters hope Fosters delusion
A general belief that things will be ok A belief that something specific will happen
Persistent and can’t be disproven Temporary and easily disproven
Healthy Unhealthy


set piece for Underworld 4

As is hopefully clear, one of the above things is a helpful thing to have, while the other usually is not.  Let me illustrate using myself as an example.  I could have gotten carried away with the Kate Beckinsale thing.  I could have arranged things in my life so that I could hang around while they shot scenes between 5pm and 6am, in the hopes that I could catch a glimpse of Kate.  I could have tried to sneak around the security around the dressing room trailers.  But these actions would have been fueled by an ultimately unrealistic expectation that something good would come out of them, whereas the more likely scenario is that I would be waiting around for hours in the cold and not much else.


Alternatively, I could live my life knowing that regardless of whether I meet Kate or not, things will turn out just fine.  In the end, that’s what happened.  And although I was a bit disappointed at the “missed opportunity,” I could have been a lot more disappointed if I invested any time and effort waiting around the film set at night.

But enough about Kate.

I see students every now and then that seem to have unrealistic expectations for their careers after graduation.  Not so much the ones that are close to finishing their degree – those students tend to fall more into the depressed-and-panicking-about-finding-a-job group.  Instead, it’s the students in the early years of their post secondary education who sometimes give me the sense that they’re waiting for something to fall into their lap, something that the world owes them.

Warning: rant approaching.

It’s rare, because it’s not often this kind of person feel the need to seek help – usually it’s only after a failed attempt at something, like trying to find a part-time job.

Them: “I don’t understand!  How come I’m having so much trouble finding a job?”

Me: “Well, what have you tried doing so far to get a job?”

Them: “I dunno, I just sent resumes to like, 50 ads on craigslist.  I never had to work before.  What gives?”

Me: *facepalm*

This student has an unrealistic expectation that employers are just waiting for them to make themselves known, and by the simple act of seeing their resume, will be hopelessly and forever ensorcelled by their mere essence!  Behold the mighty job-seeking student!  Allow them to grace your establishment with their infinite skill and interminable… uh… studiousness!  Mwa hahahahaha!!

Apparently they also have an evil laugh.  And apparently I have a bit of a flair for hyperbole.

Nonetheless, reality checks are a useful thing.  Never worked before?  I’m all for parents providing for their kids, but it’s time to ditch the allowance and go wash some dishes or bus tables or sell groceries.  Volunteer!  Do some co-op work terms!  Do something!  It’s great that you’re a student – that takes a lot of skill, determination, hard work, and intelligence.  But in and of itself, the fact that you’re a student is not enough to contextualize those skills, determination, hard work, and intelligence – at least not in the eyes of an employer, who at the end of the day is thinking about making an investment in you.

If I had a choice between hiring someone with a sparkling GPA but no experience, and someone who just barely scraped by enough to graduate, but had worked/volunteered/etc. throughout their degree, it would be an easy choice to pick the latter.  I have the feeling that most employers would feel the same way.  Employers want to know that you can make a contribution to their success.

The world doesn’t owe you anything.  So it’s time to ask: what do you owe the world?  What, even if it’s ‘just’ washing dishes, can you contribute?

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.