Dealing With Denial: Twelve Ways to Look at Rejection


Among twenty
unread emails

The only
message marked “Important”

Began with “We


I am of three

The defensive
mind, which maintains that I am the smartest and the most qualified and that
the Powers that Be are subhuman boors who wouldn’t recognize genius if it bit
them on their slack-jawed faces;

self-loathing mind, which regards this failure as evidence of my
unfitness for adulthood and inherent worthlessness;

And the
rational mind, which recognizes that the others are unfounded in reality and
stem from of an obstinate narcissism leftover from childhood.


I applied for a
thing. Other people did the same. Only one of us got it.

In my more
philosophical fantasies,

It’s hard not
to think of all of us as small parts of the pantomime.


After all, just
yesterday we were in sixth grade

When the
teachers got together and staged a poetry recitation contest.

Not because it
mattered who could rattle off Prelutsky quickest,

(It didn’t)

But to train us
in the art of competition,

To steel our
nerves against the rat race.

And, sure, for
their entertainment and the entertainment of our betters. Because, really, who
doesn’t love a little blood-sport? 


So, yeah, it
helps a little to think of the employers and selection committees of the world—the gatekeepers—as game-makers

Who lure
leagues of hapless applicants into the arena of battle.

A friendly effort—

Sadistic, sure;
but not malicious, outright.


But that’s just
child-brain talking again,

And we are
children no longer.

applications and grad schools and grant opportunities don’t come into being as elaborate

They exist
because there are jobs to be done and higher learning to be bestowed and capital to be awarded.

And we have
come of age. And so they fall to us.


You can be
rejected for any number of reasons:

Maybe you turned
in your application late,

Or some crucial
component (like a recommendation letter or a copy of a passport) got lost in
the mail, 

Or maybe your
mom didn’t want you to move so far away, so she pretended to be you and wrote a
terrible fake personal statement and sent it in so
that you’d have no other choice but to slink back home with your tail between
your legs,

Or your
interviewer suffered a hacking cough just as he went to tally
up your score and the pen slipped and marked the wrong box,

Or you were
just off your game that day,

Or you were
unqualified. Or worse yet—

Qualified. But
not the most qualified.


Four years ago, I took to Facebook and proudly proclaimed
before the online world that I had gotten into Pomona College. I had also got into Kenyon, and Wesleyan, and all those other household
liberal-artsy names. I rattled them off and I thought
nothing of the repercussions. Until this semester, when my newsfeed
was flooded with a series of posts thanking the
masses for having helped the poster choose between Grad School X and Program Y and Internship Z and heaven only knows what else. 

If I say now that I think such practices are in poor taste, is it sour grapes? Or is it a marker of personal growth?


Four years ago, I made a pact with the Devil. I thought that I was sacrificing my time, my backbreaking
effort and all the financial resources at my disposal for my liberal arts
education so that, in return, I might have access to all manner of
scintillating opportunities of which I might otherwise be deprived. And now I have come
to the end of this road, and I find that its undertaking has guaranteed me
nothing substantive—only the promise of
a life spent grasping at conditionals.


It’s funny.
When your good friend doesn’t get something, you throw your arms around
them and stroke their hair and tell them it’ll be alright—and you believe it.
You believe that
tiger’ll get ‘em next time and you wouldn’t for a second think less of them.
Because, no matter what some company bigwig or prize committee thinks of them, you know them, and you know that they’re awesome and nothing will
change that. The earth
will continue to rotate, and life will go on, and you will still love the dickens
out of them.

But when you’re
the one that doesn’t get the thing, it’s a whole different ball game. Things
are undeniably terrible whatever way you shake it, and no amount of
hair-stroking or cold platitudinal comfort can shake the pervasive sense that
they will always be that way. You may even lash out at the people you love
because, in some bizarre way, you feel like that will help, even though you know
that nothing will.


Except for

looking back at all your past rejections, you realize that this was
the thing that always made it okay. Life consists of hills and troughs,
but it’s not really the next peak that lifts you up again—it’s time, time
spent recovering from the last wound and
learning to accept the fact that you are human, fallible to the extreme, a
screw-up by default, but altogether pretty lovable and excellent. You try to abide in that knowledge, because that’s how you
keep it together.  


I know
difficult sums,

Obscure facts
and esoteric grammatical constructions.

But I know,

That rejection
is involved in what I know.

Lexie Kelly Wainwright PO ’15 is a religious studies major and a linguistics studies minor. This North Campus queen was destined for royalty from birth—she was born in the same hospital as Blue Ivy Carter. 

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