When I was an undergrad student waiting with baited breath to hear back from graduate schools, time stretched on and on - seconds became hours became years. I remember the first acceptance coming from Loyola University in Chicago. I was walking home when the email come across my phone screen, and I let out a long exhale, knowing that I was going somewhere, no matter the nature of fates that were sealed in letters from other programs.
Looking back at that time, I realize I was set up falsely to believe that the world was mine - I received acceptances to all 5/5 programs I had applied to, got my top graduate assistantship, and landed a number of other leadership opportunities throughout grad school. It’s not that I expected to get everything that I wanted, but I also rarely anticipated the sting that comes along with rejection.
I would feel that sting regularly and more intensely in the years that followed. Just recently I was sent a rejection notice from one well-known writers’ retreat, and was waitlisted for another after having been denied last year. I was accepted into the Kearny Street Interdisciplinary Writer’s Lab for the summer, and will spend my Saturday mornings in writing intensives.
But back to the rejection. When I was rejected last year, I immediately teared up, began to question the quality of my writing, wondered what the point of even trying was anymore.
This year, as I smiled sadly at the email stating that I had been placed on the waiting list, I thought, “well, that’s better than last year.” When asked by a loved one why I posted an image of the rejection email on social media, I responded that I was proud that I had tried. Small gestures representing my growth and maturing in handling rejection.
The difference between these past few years was felt everywhere in my body. There was no hollowness in my chest or wringing of hands. I did not question my skills in writing - I acknowledged that I applied to a program along with the best in the craft. I allowed myself to feel the disappointment that was appropriate for the moment without telling myself stories about my worth and capabilities.
I am learning to embrace rejection as an important part of life - which is helpful as a writer, I’m told, but I know that it doesn’t just apply to professional endeavors. There are plenty of people in the world who will not care for me for whatever reason, and I won’t be able to do anything about it. They will reject me, and even though it’s hard for me to not feel liked, it isn’t often about me (and when it is, I know it). I will be rejected by dream jobs, by publishing companies and writing retreats, by lovers and friends, and so on.
But what does rejection teach me? What is the sweet part, the gift?
The gift is realizing that I get to continue to grow and push myself to be better for the next time around (if there is one). The lesson is learning to remain present while waiting with baited breath. The sweet part is knowing that I am still worthy.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.