I had my first big rejection last week.
I mean big. The crushing, leaves you speechless type of rejection.
In February, I submitted a proposal for a National Geographic Fulbright fellowship. I wasn’t very optimistic, until I found out in late April that I was a finalist. Suddenly, the impossible didn’t seem quite so impossible, and the following weeks were filled with nervous excitement, wishful planning, and an abundance of superstitious rituals (including making a wish every day at 11:11 and picking up every face-up penny I could find).
Finally, last week, I got the email. My proposal hadn’t been selected. Maybe, the email encouraged, I could try again next year.
To put it bluntly: being rejected sucked. Especially from something I had wanted so badly. There was a healthy amount of teas, phone calls to my parents, and general disappointment.
But in some ways I’m glad (although trust me, that wasn’t my first reaction). Being rejected from something you really, really want reminds you of a few things.
First, rejection is a little like pulling off a Band-aid. You dread the idea of it, but after it happens, you are still standing. Perhaps not without a bit of pain, but in one piece nonetheless. Although you move forward with the knowledge that this rejection certainly won’t be your last, you know it might knock you on your ass, but it won’t kill you.
Second, it reminds you that your friends will be ready to catch you at your weakest moments. I was lucky enough to receive the news while traveling with three of my closest friends in Europe (I know, I know…could be worse). As soon as I got the email, they enshrouded me with complete support—the kind that only comes from a genuine place of love. They knew exactly that to do, what to say, and what not to say. With the support of friends and family, the concept of rejection seems a little less scary. Because you know they will love you anyway.
Lastly, rejection creates a space for opportunity. Having a dream disappear in an instant is scary. But it also creates space for a new dream. As a new college graduate, the possibilities are truly endless. When Plan A goes astray, it just allows Plans B through F to have more of a chance. The next 12 months of my post-graduate life are a blank slate. Who knows what kinds of new adventures will pop up.
Yesterday, I checked my watch at exactly 11:11 and my heart jumped. I was at a loss, having been used to making the same wish for weeks. What do I wish for now?
Don’t worry, I thought of something. Now to make my Plan B the new Plan A. But Plan C is waiting safely in the wings, just in case.