Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Staying Positive

Hello, and welcome to Embrace Space, the only blog on the internet solely written by me! Today's post is about staying positive even when that sucks.

When someone asks me if I see the glass as half empty or half full, my answer isn't what they expect. I often joke that the glass is full, of both water and air, so either expected answer is kind of limited, in my opinion.

However, when I consider the spirit of the question, I know my answer, but I come about it in a roundabout way.

I am an optimist, but I am also an engineer. The two are not mutually exclusive, not at all, but one important aspect of being a good engineer (or designer, or doctor, etc.) is the ability to foresee problems, obstacles, and plan for them, work around them.

I have always been able to see the problems with any plan, always able to poke holes in theories, and in a way, this seems like pessimistic behaviour. I am expecting the worst, and always looking for ways that I may fail.

Practical optimism does not come from ignoring the negatives, it comes from embracing them, and working around them. Life is not a fairy tale, bad things will happen, and if you want to succeed, you have to account for failure. Better yet, you have to pick yourself up after you fail.

It is definitely not easy, and even those well-practiced at practical optimism struggle from time to time.

If you're familiar with me, with this blog, you'll know that I've been looking for work in my field for quite a while. I had an exciting year in France finishing my Masters in space studies and engineering, complete with an internship at NASA, and things looked great! I knew the job search would be tough, but I felt good about my prospects.

Six months out of school I landed a job! How exciting! I was well on my way, my career was starting, I would finally be reunited with my girlfriend who was waiting patiently in Europe! And then, nothing happened. I went from seeing my immediate future in Scotland and working in my field, to having no job and knowing that my desired future was very far away.

Since then, I've had ups and downs, and while the ups have been amazing, the downs have been very frustrating. No job, no money, lots of student debt, no prospects, no sense of purpose. It has weighed on me constantly for a long time now. It's tough enough to find a job these days, but to find one in your field, in another country? Well, that's beyond ambitious.

For the last 8 months, I have been working at random, local jobs, while looking for work in my field. Working only part-time, keeping time available to look for career work, it has been tough to provide for myself and make my monthly payments. My friends and family have done so much to provide for me, keeping me housed, fed, and supported, but I still had to bring money in to pay my monthly student debts. Most of the time, I struggled, barely making it, having nothing left after my interest payments.

I had no real sense of agency. I had no buying power. I could not afford to buy anything for myself, and this really irritated me. I had only two pairs of work pants and when I tore one, I simply got by on the other. All my socks had holes in them until the people closest to me bought me new ones. Added to this, I wasn't working anywhere near my field. There's nothing wrong with working retail, or wholesale, but it wasn't where I wanted to be, and that fatigued me more so than the labour of the job itself.

The job search was going well, insofar as I could find opportunities, but I had to struggle through the mire that is applying for a job these days. This includes, but is not limited to: formatting my CV and cover letter for every job (standard practice), filling out applications (again, standard), registering on the website for the ability to even apply (sadly, becoming standard), inputting every detail from my CV onto the online application thus rendering my CV redundant (sad, and again, becoming standard), and automated rejections, if I got one at all.

I had so many reasons to complain, and sometimes I vented my ire. Even when life was good to me in other ways, this fueled my frustration. I didn't have to worry about food or lodging, but I felt bad about having an opinion on what pizza to get, since I wasn't contributing to the meal. None of my friends made me feel bad about supporting me, I made myself feel bad. I felt like I was a burden.

You're right. This is a post about staying positive, but I wanted you to know what I was dealing with. Through it all, two very important factors kept me positive, kept me working hard to better my situation: my supportive loved ones, and my gritty determination.

As I mentioned above, my friends and family have been exceptionally supportive. They have always believed in me, never once thinking that I would or should give up, move on, or change careers. On top of that, they have provided for me when I could not do so myself. I cannot understate the importance and excellence of my loved ones.

While they were supporting me from without, my gritty determination was supporting me from within. I knew what I wanted, and nothing else would suffice. I knew that while my dreams were ambitious, they were achievable, and I knew that I had what it took. So, I used this determination, and applied it, every single day.

I used this energy to push myself to find work. Even when the job market and application process frustrated me, I pushed myself to find one more job, apply for one more position.

I kept myself aware of current events, in and out of my field, in order to be more prepared for when opportunity struck. When I felt completely stuck, not finding any new jobs, I pushed harder to know more about various subjects, reading articles and textbooks on the space industry. 

I let myself relax, at least a little. Sometimes my determination gets in my way, makes me push myself to the breaking point, and that's not good. I have had to learn how to relax, how to focus on something else. I have learned that we all need this. We need time to recharge our energy, our determination, our creativity. 

I used to be terrible at this; I used to feel so guilty if I did anything unrelated to my goals, stressed when I should be relaxing. It helped me to learn, and remember, that a relaxed brain is still a working brain, and that sometimes we need this time to not consciously work on a problem. Our minds keep working and we often find inspiration from the least likely of sources.

It is also useful to be productive in unrelated, creative endeavours. I play roleplaying games with friends, and often write stories based on our adventures. This outlet allows me to write in a more relaxed, creative way than science, engineering, or this blog would normally allow, and finishing such writing made me feel great! Sure, it wasn't going to help me find a job, but it felt good to get something done and gave me confidence that I could complete job-related activities more easily!

Life is tough, (and the winner for most overstated understatement is...) but you can make it great! Bad things happen, but you should not give up. You should not give in, either. Too often, I see complaints, whining, negativity, and while I share many of the same negative feelings and experiences, I work hard to not be a negative person. I understand the need to vent, to get emotions off your mind, but after a certain point, venting turns to complaining, and I mark the difference as the line between saying things are bad, and saying there is nothing we can do to change things. 

Whether it is pushing through adversity with determination, taking your mind off things with relaxation, or changing your perspective, there is always something you can do to help, to change things. It may not seem that way, your efforts may seem to be in vain, but trust me, they're not. While it is true that some opportunities just seem to happen, no matter your input, you owe it to yourself to keep trying, to keeping a positive mindset. To hoping for the best, and planning for the worst.

Did this thinking help me? Indeed so. It helps me enjoy my time with friends and family. It helped me work a job I didn't really want, knowing that it was only temporary. And, as you'll see in my next post, it helped me find new opportunities...

(Sorry for the suspense, but thanks for reading!)

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