It’s only Thanksgiving season, and I’ve already been rejected by three academic conferences, three a Capella groups, two fellowships, two summer internships, and one guy I really liked. I’m not even done yet; I’m applying for a multitude of other programs, with the hope that maybe I’ll be accepted to one for the summer. I once thought that rejection meant other people didn’t find me good enough — my voice doesn’t blend enough; I don’t have enough experience writing policy memos; I’m not pretty enough. Living with this idea can make life look pretty grim.
Whenever I see an email from an internship/fellowship/campus group whose opening line is “Thank you for…” I prepare myself for the worst. Sometimes, I don’t even read the email. I know what’s coming: I’m just not good enough. I was getting very frustrated around Thanksgiving time, precisely because groups kept saying “thank you” for just about everything; why did I need to be thanked for being rejected?
Were my essays not good enough? Was I a bad writer? Were my grades unimpressive? Various judgments on myself came flooding forth. Then came the conspiracy theories. Maybe they were all misogynists, I thought. Or even worse, maybe they were anti-Semites. These ridiculous notions didn’t help me feel any better. Over Thanksgiving — a time when we are supposed to feel grateful for what we have — I’ll be frank in saying I didn’t feel very grateful at all. Nothing I wanted wanted me.
My mom, oblivious to my perceived worthlessness, still texted me one morning to say hi. My friends still cared about me. Some of my professors (probably) thought I was cool. A high school teacher of mine texted me — very fortuitously — to wish me a happy Thanksgiving, and say that “you’re not measured by your resume; you’re measured by who you are.” At a time when I felt as if “who I was” just wasn’t good enough, there was a reminder that it probably was. If others found enough worth in me to call me their friend and be invested in my life, I haven’t been rejected by everything.
That said, it was natural (and healthy) on my part to be upset about not getting a position, whether as a summer intern, presenter, or girlfriend. It’s normal to feel hurt by rejection, and accepting and learning from it is far easier said than done. I watched last semester as friends of mine were rejected by three, five, and even 10 internships. In situations like those, it’s hard to want to learn from anything when you feel like everything is out to get you. It’s really hard to feel thankful.
But even when some don’t want you, others really do. Your intrinsic worth is not measured by the amount of rejections you’ve had, but by how many successes you’ve achieved. Sure, it’s a cliche, but every relationship you value and find meaning in is a victory in and of itself. Just because there was no application for a meaningful role in life doesn’t mean you weren’t accepted for it.
You’re a friend to many, a child to some, and a treasured individual to surely many more. No matter what you’ve been rejected from, it’s important to remember that you haven’t been rejected by everyone. I expect to receive many more emails beginning with “Thank you for your application,” but I also expect to live much of my life being thankful for the roles I play that haven’t needed an interview, a resume, or an email rejection.
Leora Eisenberg is a sophomore from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.