FALLONE: Rejection, not failure

“We have had many qualified applicants this year … We regret to inform you that we will not be able to offer you a position.”

The first rejection came as a complete shock. I had to read it twice before the words fully sunk in. The next one came less than an hour later. By the end of that day, I had accumulated two more. By the end of the week, my tally had risen to 12. Twelve overly polite responses, 12 “appreciated your application” and “try again next year” notes. One rejection is hard enough for a typical type-A Yalie to deal with. But what happens if you get rejected from everything that you applied for?

Let me backtrack a bit and say that this was not the column I was expecting to write at the start of this year. This fall, I was determined to take more risks, to more fully explore all of the resources that Yale has to offer. I confidently auditioned for extracurricular groups, applied for selective seminars and interviewed for on-campus jobs.

I assumed that I would be accepted for at least one position — I even worried that I would have to turn some of the opportunities down. It wasn’t arrogance, but rather an expectation based on past experiences. You would be hard-pressed to find a student here who wasn’t accepted into the majority of the prestigious programs that they applied for in high school. We Yalies do that whole application thing pretty darn well — or so I thought.

But at the end of those hectic few weeks of interviews and auditions, I was left reading a computer screen full of rejection emails. I could almost feel my face stinging from the slap.

At first, I felt pretty awful. I wanted to curl up in my room with a bag of popcorn and watch a lot of terrible TV. Never before had I received so many rejections in such a short time period. It shakes your identity up a bit when you discover that you might not be as good of a leader or an editor or a poet as you had thought. To realize that they could have chosen you, but they chose someone else instead. Yikes.

But, as the time goes on, I’m beginning to come to terms with my folder full of rejections. I realize that in a place like Yale, where each person has such incredible talents, to say that competition is fierce is a major understatement. If you audition for a spoken word group, you might just be competing with the winner of last year’s National Poetry Slam. The other applicants to that creative writing seminar may have already published full-length novels.

Most importantly, I have come to realize that I am not alone. For every student getting tapped or initiated this week, there are dozens more who were turned down. For many, it may be their first experience with rejection on such a large scale. That’s okay. We’re only human. Much as it may be hard for us overachieving perfectionists to hear, we can’t excel at everything.

Here at Yale, students typically internalize such rejections. We don’t like to talk about our failures, the painful moments of disappointment when we’re told we didn’t make the cut. Successes, on the other hand, are all too public. We all hear the cheers and laughter echoing across Old Campus during tap nights and initiations.

When we keep our disappointments hidden, we lose out on an opportunity to build a network of support. No matter how incredible everyone here seems, I guarantee you they have all experienced rejection at some point. By acknowledging this shared experience we can not only move past it ourselves, but also help others in their own processes of growth.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that I liked being rejected, or that I’m glad it happened. My ego is still a bit bruised. But maybe I needed to be knocked down a few pegs to be hit with the icy reality that I won’t be successful in everything I endeavor.

I wasn’t planning on being without major extracurricular commitments this semester — but I’m beginning to warm to the idea of it. I have an unexpected opportunity to make extra time to see friends and to explore New Haven (and heck, maybe even the whole East Coast). There will be plenty of time to enjoy what I do well, and to practice the skills I’m not so good at yet. I’ve started to understand that rejection doesn’t make you a failure — it just makes you human. And there’s something very freeing about that.

Emma Fallone is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at emma.fallone@yale.edu.