It’s the most wonderful and most horrible time of year.
From all over the U.S,. I’m getting emails and texts, spanning the range of every emotion possible:
I GOT IN
I GOT A SCHOLARSHIP
They rejected him.
To Those Celebrating
To those whose dream schools responded with a yes: CONGRATULATIONS. You ran this race hard. You brought your awesome qualifications and efforts to the table. Your unique character leapt off the pages.
You also fit a very specific slot in the school’s lineup. They wanted you with all your unique particulars to add to the school’s diversity, a glorious patchwork quilt of wide-ranging interests, abilities, and lived experiences. You’re going to fill a key spot at this school and make a difference.
I’m keeping a list of YES, from all my students who come to Success Story for essay support. It gives me joy every time to be near these moments of joy after so much hard work.
To Those Mourning
If your dreams are deferred, IT’S NOT OVER.
Hear that loud and clear. You too brought your awesome qualifications and efforts to the table, and your unique character leapt off the pages. But many universities struggle to make final decisions right now, and the fact your application got moved to the next pile means you still have a chance.
If you were rejected by your dream school, IT’S NOT OVER. Your awesomeness is not defined by this no. Your right fit awaits you.
Sometimes “right fit” feels like the coldest of comforts in this situation, when you thought you’d already knew what it was. When you have already brought your all to the application table, I hope you hear what I’m about to say.
It’s Not You; It’s Them
After I was accepted to Stanford, we were told by admissions staff that Stanford had sought each one of us for a specific purpose: to build a first-year class that represented the widest range of student abilities, talents, accomplishments, and interests. Stanford wanted a violin player from New York City to room with a soccer player from Iowa. They wanted a physics prodigy rooming with a future standup comedian. They wanted the California transplant living in North Carolina, also a newspaper editor in love with Anne of Green Gables, to room with the pre-med and pre-engineering student from New Delhi, where Stanford would be her first time in the United States.
The last example was me and my roommate. An incredibly diverse class is what competitive schools are all about.
If you didn’t get into your dream school, it’s possible you don’t fit a very specific slot they hoped to fill. You weren’t a gymnast and painter from Puerto Rico or a coder and crocheter from Oregon. Or, they already believed they’d admitted you, artist from Kentucky who’s never left the state. They’d thought they already found a broadcast journalist from Maine who spends their summers in Dubai.
It’s a Numbers Game: Luck, and Timing
A very wise fellow author reminded me one day when I was in the doldrums (honestly? depths of despair) about the role of luck and timing in the arts. I’d just told her of my journey of rejections from publishers and agent queries, and summed it up with I thought was wisdom. I told her I thought the acceptance game for authors involved one-third persistence, one-third talent, and the rest luck and timing.
“Oh, honey,” she said (a talented author with many books behind her). “It’s more than 50% luck and timing.”
Look at these stats from Stanford and UNC-Chapel Hill in 2020 – 2021: 45, 227 applicants to the former, and 31,940 to the latter.
You Control Your Effort
You controlled what you could in this journey, and that’s your effort. And that is the only thing you can control. I see this up close and personal with the students I coach: thoughtful analysis, unique storytelling, and hard-core revision.
The latter is the most important, honestly. How often you are willing to re-see your work is key. That will serve you in any school and any field, the ability to reinvent something.
You controlled your transcripts and those résumés, every grade and accomplishment you worked four long years to achieve. That persistent effort will serve you in any job. As someone who’s hired and worked with many, many people, I can assure you that the folks you want with you on a team are those who give their best. Talent that’s unfocused–or self-focused–is one of the biggest frustrations of leaders and managers.
You may be judging yourself hard right now as you hear of others’ acceptances, mad at yourself for not being number one or “a natural” in multiple fields. I’m telling you now: turn off that mean voice in your head. If you strive to get better at the things you do, and you love to learn, and you work really hard, you possess something truly precious in your character. Those are the folks I love to work with.
Give the Pain Time, Then Go Hard Again
As a novelist, short story writer, and graduate student, I am very familiar with rejections. I know their deep and searing pain. Despite my six books and graduate school attendance, I’ve logged close to a thousand NO’s in my rearview mirror. So with 30-some years in the business of attempting and succeeding at authorship, trust me when I say I know the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Visit my author blog to learn of how many times I’ve queried agents and editors and contests and grants.
It does get easier, weathering the NO (yeah, I all-caps it for a reason), but it’s never pleasant. There will be hard-to-breathe days ahead, days where you have to talk your mind out of believing that the NO is you. We humans, we tend to seek the negative, the problems, the gossip first, don’t we? We home in on the ugly instead of the positive. So it’s normal if you seem to see only NO’s right now.
I’m here to tell you that every NO you walk around, the stronger and more resilient you will feel. With each day passing, NO becomes No becomes a tiny little no.
Every time you sit and breathe through the misery, then pick yourself up again to do something else, you find a new kind of strength. It might be writing a note of gratitude to those who comfort us. It might be doing something “just because” and not because it’s for any particular goal. It just feels nice to knit fiercely or dance wildly or sing boldly or walk aimlessly. I’ve been drawing holiday cards this year, and it’s given me a new kind of life.
Those of us who nevertheless persist, we do find our fit.
And we start saying YES to all the things we do well, all the truths of our talents. We see all the doors that are opening, the windows, the holes in the roof. We listen to our supporters and cheerleaders and remember where our strengths lie.
And suddenly a New Year is upon us. There are new, open roads where we see possibility, and gain distance from the darkness. There’s suddenly peace in the sunset, not tears. And that is when we begin to walk toward that light.