Waiting Games

It is curiuous how an activity that is essentially “not doing anything” can be more exhausting than an endurance run or a weekend with family. Today is the day that I am supposed to get the results for my Master’s thesis and I am slightly scared and majorly annoyed. It’s not that the results I am about to get decide my future – oh, wait, it is. Also, I really, honestly hate waiting. It’s the most pointless non-activity and at the same time it somehow cannot be substituted by an actual activity. Maybe it’s this odious post-modern upbringing but nothing  reveals the pointlessness of existence more than a couple of hours of waiting.

So what to do? Doing something substantially different might be sage advice but while my body could potentially be able to do something else, my mind certainly isn’t. Moving away from the internet for any time seems an entirely crippling idea. At the same time, staring vacantly at the screen and pressing refresh every 2.3 seconds isn’t really much better either.

Fortunately (but regrettably), I have a whole lot of waiting experience. Waiting for universities and employers to get back to me on applications, waiting for examiners to mark my papers, waiting for the Fox Network to renew a Joss Whedon show (Firefly or Dollhouse, I’m not picky, just get it done!). The thing with waiting for results is that regardless of how good you are, or how hard you worked for something, there always remains a small chance that things go wrong. I’m not saying that evaluation is arbitrary because, for one thing, I do not believe that is true and, more importantly, I do not believe it is helpful. Rather, I think, there is deviation and regression to the mean. This is a fancy way of saying, if you work hard, you are more likely to be succesful, which, unfortunately, does not mean you will be succesful every single time. Which entails that there is a small chance that the thing you are waiting for right now might go wrong. Which, in my case, means that I can be unbearably nervous about something that is not very likely to go terribly wrong.

I get ever so slightly annoyed when people tell me that the thing I am waiting for will turn out all right. You have absolutely no way of knowing it. I wrote the fracker and even I do not know that the result will be ok. There is no benefit in trying to convince myself that the result will be good. Either I won’t actually believe it, in which case, I’ll still be nervous or I will entirely believe it, in which case, I will not feel the surge of joy, relief and euphoria that is the only reward of waiting. More importantly, if things do go wrong, as they do from time to time, I will be devestated because I will have convinced myself that they could not possibly go wrong.

Rather than telling myself that things will go right, I should tell myself that things will go wrong and that I’ll still be ok. The moment of waiting is the ideal time to work out an amazing Plan B, to envision an alternate life in which you are free to do something else entirely. So, what’s the worst that could happen? I could get a result, which is so low that it destroys the distinction I built with the previous results. In this case, I would lose the conditional offer and could not do my doctorate in Oxford. What would I do? First, I would do some boring things: Since my supervisor really liked the thesis, I would probably try to get a remark.  Even if that doesn’t work out, there are plenty of universities that do not list a distinction as a condition. Cambridge, for example.

But what if things go so horribly wrong that no university will take me? This is where things get really interesting. A friend of mine is applying for a traineeship at Lufthansa, and I must admit that looking through their webpage and doing the mock tests they provide on their website was exciting. Though I love academia, there is a thrill about entering “the real world”. Or I could take it even further, do a quick Bachelor in economics and work as a consultant, with a professional mani and sexy businesswoman pumps. I could have fun as a consultant and being a natural thinker and problem solver, I would probably be quite good at it. Or, if that does not work, I could move back to Heidelberg, and finally write that novel. I could live with my boyfriend again, learn how to sew properly and sell matching dresses for dogs and their owners on Etsy. Or I could train as a chef and become awe-inspiringly obese. Or I could move into a really cheap flat, live on the dole, and watch telly all day while waiting for the Fox network to renew a Joss Whedon show.

Who has time to wait for results when there is an Etsy empire to build and stiff letters to Fox to write?

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About Oxford DPhile

I'm a doctoral candidate in English at Somerville College, Oxford. My thesis, tentatively titled “Just Literature: Evil, Victorian Narrative, and the Problem of Theodicy”, explores the interplay between literature and theodicy – the justification of a good God in light of the existence of evil – in the works of A.H. Clough, J.A. Froude and George Eliot. I teach English Literature at the University of Würzburg, coach academic writing in English at Oxford, blog about the tricks and pitfalls of thesis writing, and love to collaborate. My novel "Das Unglück anderer Leute" was published by Galiani Berlin in August 2016.
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