An ode to rejection: Finding success in the wake of feeling unsuccessful

If a class about rejection were taught, it would quickly evolve into a contest of who got rejected the most and most creatively. You would sift through your inbox to find the folder where you dumped all your emails from potential employers that started with “unfortunately.”  Like a mid-life crisis book club, everyone would read their pieces aloud while the professor laughs uncomfortably and reassures everyone that the job market is better than ever, even if you can’t find a place within it.

Unfortunately, I am sorry to inform you that you will be rejected at some point in your life, and with finals quickly approaching, there are more opportunities for success to slip away, for  a class or a story will not prepare one for the shocking, insidious symptoms of rejection. It starts with the email, the phone call or even a lack thereof. You might give a nervous chuckle when the thought of living at home jumps into your mind. Then there is sadness, when you start hitting up happy hours at 5  p.m. and avoiding eye contact with anyone who might be more successful than you. Next, the excuses phase, when you say “haven’t heard back” when your parents ask about applications, or unprovokingly tell your friends that “having no job offers is great because I can finally pursue my passion for pottery.”

Toward the ends of every semester, people share their summer or post-college career plans. The stories of dream jobs blow up in your face, and the reality of rejection rolls in. Then starts the self doubt. In high school, having The Internship, The Dream College, The 4.0 is placed in our bookbags and carried on our shoulders constantly. College hits, and the pressure for The Dream Job, or getting any job, builds until it hits the top of our brain. You wonder why. What could I have done differently to be where my friends or peers are? That rejection feels like a shriveling, where you shrivel in the light of your perceived failure. And then it happens again. And again. And again.

However, the blindness I experienced in the wake of my own rejections didn’t allow me to see the toxicity of that statement. The way society paints success as a competition and end goal to happiness skews the holistic meaning of what it means to be successful. Losing the opportunity at your dream job or internship doesn’t make you a failure. Being that one person in your friend group without a job or a clear career path doesn’t make you a failure. You are only failing at living your best if you let the feeling swallow you whole.

The last phase in the process of handling rejection is acceptance, realizing that what you have accomplished so far makes you successful, not the ones that got away. The only rejection you should welcome with open arms is the rejection of traditional standards of materialistic and power-centered achievement that masks itself as happiness. That is not living a successful life, so make sure you keep re-applying.

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