We are sorry to inform you
They say that good things always come to those who wait.
It’s strange to think that I’ve finally entered my so-called Last Month of College. This past year went by like a blur; looking back at these last two semesters, I find that the only memories I’ve been able to retain are weird little details — like the smell of freshly brewed espresso in my friend’s old apartment, or the time I missed a doctor’s appointment because I stepped in a mud puddle and lost my shoe. Funny how memories work.
This year was both the easiest and hardest year I’ve ever had at Wellesley. It was easy because I learned to come to terms with my weaknesses, I stopped trying to compete with everyone, and I finally began to feel okay with myself. It was hard because by the time I figured all of this out, I had to start applying for post-grad things where I would have to compete with everyone and pretend that my weaknesses didn’t exist. And as the rejection letters rolled in, each one seemed to only remind me of how inadequate and not-okay I actually was.
Most of my time and energy this year was spent applying for three big Wellesley graduate fellowships. Today, I received my third and final rejection letter. It mildly sucks knowing all that work put into writing essays and preparing for interviews ultimately amounted to nothing, but that feeling of mild suckiness and frustration goes away pretty quickly. What stays behind is a throbbing ache of knowing that another opportunity — one that you’ve had your eye on for months, even years; one you’ve dreamed about obsessively (but not too obsessively, for fear of jinxing yourself) — is gone for good. It feels like a miscarriage — except that you were never certain that the baby was going to survive at all, and when the baby is gone, you feel like you aren’t even allowed to feel sad about it, because there’s a little voice in your head chastising you for having the audacity to think that you were good enough to be a mom in the first place.
The thing I got rejected from today wasn’t a fellowship or even really a job, and getting it wouldn’t really have done much to help me build a successful future like the other two fellowships would have. But for some reason, this rejection hurt the most. This particular opportunity was the most unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky out of all three, but by some miracle I became one of a handful of finalists for the spot. And after a year of much waiting and few good things, for the first time, I allowed myself to hope.
But in the end, it didn’t happen. I don’t really know why, and I don’t really care to find out. It’s been more than eight hours since I got the rejection and I still haven’t figured out how I feel about it. I think this rejection hurts more because I know that if I had gotten it, it would’ve meant much, much more to me emotionally than any other job or fellowship I could ever dream of getting. It would’ve been a victory after a hard, four-year long battle with depression and all its demons; it would’ve been proof that I survived and lived to tell the story. And hopefully, it would’ve helped others realize that if I could be okay, they could be okay, too.
The hilariously cruel irony in all this, though, is the fact that my application essay talked about the difference between “doing” and “being” and how self-worth isn’t determined by the things you do, but the person you are. Which, of course, makes me feel like a flaming hypocrite because the main reason why the scars from being repeatedly rejected run so deep is that I can’t help but feel like I’ve fought tooth and nail to become good at what I’m good at, and I have absolutely nothing to show for it — no awards, no fellowships, no cool job to inspire the envy of the people around me. I can write on this blog until my fingers turn blue but for the love of all that is holy would someone please hire me and publish me and tell me I’m good enough for their publication because I’m just not satisfied with being good enough for myself???
Rejection does a great job of bringing out people’s worst insecurities. A lot of the time I walk away from rejection feeling disgusted with myself for being so discontent, so ungrateful, so greedy; chastising myself with those Bible verses that say that we ought to rejoice in our sufferings and that God has a plan and that we ought to be thankful for what we have because otherwise we’ll never have enough (although I think one of those is from Oprah)…and in the end, I end up feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad and it all just becomes very unproductive.
It seems that the advice I gave in my application essay is a lot harder to swallow than I thought. It’s human instinct to want to be rewarded for working hard; to be recognized for one’s talents and abilities. But how big does that reward or recognition have to be in order to convince ourselves that our talents and abilities are real? Is it enough to hear our friends and family praise us for it (or are they just supposed to do that)? Is it enough to earn a good grade in school to show for it? Is it enough to get a job that allows us to demonstrate it? Is it enough to win prizes for it, to be respected for it, to be an authority on it? Is it enough to be the best at it, to be better that everyone else at it? Is that even realistically possible? What if we fail to achieve any of these things? Does it mean that our abilities and talents simply don’t exist, and we are mere victims of our own deceitful egos?
Or should we be convinced of our own abilities simply by telling ourselves that it is so? I mean, there are probably people out there that are like this, and I’m willing to bet that they are very happy people. But the rest of us seem to sacrifice this happiness for the sake of maintaining situational awareness of things like “standards” and “decency” and “honor.” And we suffer for it. If seeking the approval and validation of others is such a painful and pathetic act, why do we do it?
Maybe it’s because the alternative — being happy with yourself — is just too hard. Maybe we wonder if there’s anything worth loving after our accomplishments and our abilities have been peeled away. Maybe Charlie was right, and we only accept the love we think we deserve — and we don’t think we deserve much. So to make up for it, we do and we do and we do and we keep doing until someone gives us their validation and approval. Which is nice. But it isn’t love. It isn’t enough to satisfy the parts of us that aren’t yet whole.
I’m talking ideals here of course, and these are ideals that I’m still miles away from ever achieving. I have self esteem issues that trace back further than I care to recount, and as hard as I’m working to build it back up again now, every rejection letter is a wrecking ball that swings in and ruins everything and I feel like I have to start from scratch every time it happens. It sucks and it hurts and I’m tired, and I really wish someone would just cut me a break and send me a letter that doesn’t begin with the words “We are sorry to inform you.”
But that’s not how the world is supposed to work, I guess, so the only thing left to do is to wipe away the tears and keep trying.