Spring semester at Duke is an infamous one. What with the return of hoards of juniors tanned by the European sun, the onslaught of programming leading up to LDOC, the flurry of social activity as new members of various groups sport their new friendships and—in most years—the promise of an end to an eternal winter. Spring in the air equals good times ahead!
But on the other hand, spring also means internships for the summer. Spring means finding a job for next year. Spring means study abroad applications, rush, elections, leadership turnovers and even—dare I say it, Valentine’s Day. And that means spring can very easily mean one, awful word:
Rejection: even the sound of it is ugly. How awful it is to put yourself out there, to invest the effort, to want very badly that one thing, to even allow yourself to hope—and then to find out, like a slap in the face, that you didn’t make it. You feel the sinking hurt that whispers you weren’t good enough. You feel stupid for hoping. Eventually, when enough time passes, you forget. Life inevitably and surely moves on—but some part of you never forgets the feeling of rejection—because honestly, it sucks.
And why wouldn’t it? That single word captures an attack on our self-esteems and potential. It’s an attack that is both targeted and personal because we take it to suggest we were shamefully inadequate in the face of others. We take it to mean we did something wrong and think in if-onlys and what-ifs. What if my resume was more impressive? What if I had spent more time on my application? If only I had more friends. If only I was skinnier. The message rejection drums into us again and again is that we were measured and found wanting.
But then I read a Bloomsberg Businessweek article about a man who strives to get rejected everyday through purposefully absurd propositions. From asking strangers for $100 to asking airline stewardesses to make the safety announcement, he’s voluntarily experienced every form of rejection—which according to him has only developed his confidence and charisma.
It’s an interesting concept that follows the old adages of what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger (although an exception I think can be made for the Durham weather). But more than that, it points to a truth that we don’t highlight nearly often enough in our self-critiques. And it’s this realization that might be crucial to the way we tackle future projects and applications.
Most of the time, we aren’t rejected. We just aren’t selected.
It sounds trivial, but making this distinction completely changes the perspective we can have on rejection. Because the man in this story who makes the preposterous demands and is turned down again and again must understand more than anything that often no is not a personal rejection. No does not mean he is not enough. It certainly does not mean he has failed. It just means he isn’t an airline stewardess after all and neither (I’m guessing) are we. When someone tells us no, it simply tells us we aren’t selected based on a set of particular guidelines. Based on someone else’s vision of what is “right,” we did not fit in.
And as hard as that may be to hear, that is not something we should take personally. In fact, it’s a huge pressure we can release ourselves from, because ideas of what looks right can’t possibly be uniform between different people. Thankfully, we are not amoeba that can mold to every situation but actual humans destined for different paths that only trial and error will determine. How can we not experience rejection again and again? In our discovery of a future unknown, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
So keep in mind: Google may not have accepted you, but Microsoft might. That cute kid you asked out in lab might have turned you down, but the cooler one next semester might not. You may not have made the cut for a position, but there’ll always be another one around the corner. I don’t deny that who we are and what we’ve done factors into the decisions people make about us, but at the end of the day rejection is the only way to learn if we’re on the right track.
Besides, never forget that Duke accepted you. And that means something special.
Isabella Kwai is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Bella a message on Twitter @tallbellarina.