The winter is the most dangerous time of the year — not just for chapped lips, bitter finger tips, and icy ground, but for a University student’s pride. Whether it’s applying to internships and spring classes or approaching someone on the Street to initiate cuffing season, rejection looms in the air. Hearing “the applicant pool was more competitive than ever” and “it’s not you, it’s me” hit similar soft spots.
But these moments call for necessary self-reflection. Just like many sophomores last month, I received a disappointing yet thoughtful note saying I had not been accepted into in one of the University’s most illustrious courses — JRN 240/CWR 240: Creative Non-Fiction with John McPhee.
I have read the email eight times over in the two days following. I dragged my feet in disappointment and basked in self-pity. The University has many experts, but fewer expert teachers. I planned my spring around the course (which, in retrospect, was my mistake). For the first time, while browsing this course, hard work didn’t feel intimidating, but exciting.
Five minutes after I learned I wouldn’t be in the course, I glanced over at a friend’s computer in lecture. Her course planner still had JRN 240 on it. My heart dropped. I squeezed a “congratulations” out around the lump in my throat. She beamed a gracious and excited smile back as she said thank you.
Between my walks to classes and re-reading (and re-rereading) the rejection email, my friend’s smile flashed in my head. Initially, I was jealous I could not feel that sense of relief and accomplishment. Yet, the more I reimagined her beaming face, the less sad I became.
The chance to take his class is no longer mine, as it is open to sophomore students only. Instead, it belongs to 16 impressive students that I could choose to see in one of two ways — as competitors that beat me out and prove my inadequacy. Or, I could choose to see them as fellow classmates that shot their shot and made it work. We all deserve to be on both sides of rejection at one point. Getting rejected can sometimes be the best way of learning to take advantage of opportunities when they do present themselves.
On the hierarchy of terrible rejections, not getting into a course is on the lowest rung. I can still stay engaged by asking that friend to share the reading list and enact the one piece of advice applying to this course granted — the best way to learn to write is to do it. But no, you can’t travel to Greece with an International Internship Program if you weren’t accepted. You can’t put down Goldman Sachs on your resume if you didn’t get the internship you prepared hours for. And no, you really can’t third wheel your crush’s dates if they never texted you back.
My strategy of taking a day to eat Skittles and to listen to The National may not work for you. Maybe that’s self-indulgent, but I would rather fully bask in present emotions than rush them away and allow them to circle my subconscious for a weeks or months after the fact.
Everyone copes with rejection in their own ways. But the only situation that forces you to develop these coping skills is getting rejected. A big factor of not being able to cope well with rejection is not experiencing it a lot. It stings because it is supposed to, but it is not supposed to deflate us permanently.
A few weeks have gone by, and while I wish JRN 240 was still on my TigerHub queue, other exciting courses take its place. Sometimes being forced to start over opens up new opportunities and outlooks.
Understanding rejection as a part of the course rather than a roadblock is a helpful mindset to keep at the University. There are so many people who seem to get it all, and it’s easy to internalize that or take it all too personally. Expecting yourself to always get what you want is not “visualizing success.” It is delusional. Ambition does not need to become entitlement. The fact that wanting and aspiring isn’t always enough scares me, but I am trying to find motivation in that reality, too.
Rachel Kennedy is a sophomore from Dedham, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.