2012 was the year of rejection for me.
For the first time in my life I pursued opportunity after opportunity to no avail. Some pursuits resulted in near successes such as final interviews with executive leadership before being turned away, while others were a fail from the very first phone interview. There were times when I recognized that I’d made a professional mistake of some sort (we live and we learn) and there were times I thought I’d hit the ball out the park.
I knew I’d have a hard time finding a new job when I quit my first nonprofit job that April, but because of that experience I was particularly determined to make sure my next move was the right one. So all of these opportunities were ones I had pursued intentionally, aggressively and strategically. And yet time after time I experienced the pain of rejection only felt when you work hard for something that seems so perfectly suited for you.
I then did what any twenty-something with the privilege of temporarily living rent-free with family would do: travel. Between September and October of 2012 I went to Miami, San Francisco, Puerto Rico and Brazil. If I couldn’t figure my life out then I might as well enjoy the present moment as best I knew how.
When the Fear Sets In
Fast forward to 2013. When I submitted my application to five MBA programs in January I feel like the entire universe knew Stanford was my dream school. My 2012 vision board was practically a shrine to the program. It felt right, and so it had to be right…
But my experiences the previous year led to severe anxiety throughout the application processs that led me to fear even the possibility of rejection from my dream school. I thought I’d be devastated.
The realization of the possibility of rejection grew more and more obvious as the admissions decision date approached in March and I’d yet to be contacted for an interview. Slowly I began bracing myself for the bash both to my self-esteem from internalizing not being viewed as a strong candidate and to my ego from the embarrassment of this ‘”failure” being so public.
But life moves on, and I’ve surprisingly felt content about giving it my best shot. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and while I’d like to believe that this was a mistake on Stanford’s part. (Are y’all reading this? Because I’m still willing to accept your offer!) I also recognize that’s not how life works. Again, life lessons from 2012.
As I sit here writing this on a plane headed to San Francisco to visit one of the schools that did accept me, I’m grateful that I have the “rockstar dilemma” – as a dear StartingBloc friend of mine refers to it – of choosing between two top MBA programs, both of which have offered me substantial scholarships.
Finding the Beauty in Rejection
The last year has taught me several things. One, rejection sucks. Let’s just keep it real here. That’s probably obvious, though, coming from a woman who has either been pursued or successfully achieved whatever major goal she set out to achieve.
Two, I’m far more resilient than I ever recognized. In an awesome exchange with my father last summer – probably without him realizing how much I needed to hear it – he reminded me of my resilient nature. I’d been smooth sailing in my professional life for such a long time that I had forgotten how many times in life I’ve faced obstacles, taken a moment to gather myself, brushed myself off, whipped my hair a la Willow Smith and kept it moving. There’s nothing like rejection to forever burn that reminder into your brain.
Third, there’s no shame in rejection. At least there shouldn’t be. We all experience it at some point and whatever shame we experience is more often than not self-induced. I’m learning to be nicer to myself one day at a time – much with the help of family, friends and mentors who tirelessly support me.
Last, rejection is a part of life. I’m sure Stanford won’t be the last rejection I experience no matter how much I wish that were the case. Building resilience, thus, is an ongoing process. That’s not too bad of a trade-off when you really think about it.
Don’t let fear make you forget that.