My first rejection letter came from the University of Michigan Business School. I kept refreshing my email to see if I’d get a follow-up response explaining some technical issue. No such response came. It hurt, but I figured I just had to get in to at least one school. The University of Pennsylvania rejection came next, followed by the Stanford rejection, and so forth. Finally, the twelfth rejection crept its ugly head into my inbox. By then, I did what every overachiever who had never been rejected would do–I felt sorry for myself.
I wish I could say that I underwent some dynamic spiritual enlightenment. I even wish I could say that I came across some wise advice in a book. In truth, the only reason why I dragged myself out of my wallowing stupor was because I thoroughly hated my job. The twelfth rejection letter coupled with a meeting reviewing internal company emails forced me to learn my first lesson:
LIFE IS MEANT FOR LIVING
I felt stuck. I had a well-paying job–that I hated. My socially acceptable graduate school escape route hadn’t panned out the way I had hoped. Nothing but desperation forced me to try something I had always wanted. I decided to teach abroad.
I now realize that my choice illustrates that many obstacles are a product of perception. When we become so consumed with our immediate problems—we fail to see the detours leading to our desired destination.
TAKE TIME TO DISCONNECT
Like a completely reasonable twenty-something, I packed up all my things and left to teach in China. I can’t say that the entire time was picture perfect. Living as a black woman in China surely had its difficulties. Yet, the most rewarding part was the ability to disconnect.
I could not count on my nonexistent Mandarin skills to communicate with others. In fact, most of my days were spent in silence. I could not rely on the empty praises of friends and family to stifle my insecurities. I could not morph into the expectations that society held for my race, gender, and social class. I had to face myself.
You don’t have to travel across the world to disconnect. All it takes is spending fifteen minutes away from to-do lists, social media, cell phones, and loved ones. Try out guided meditation to start. You’ll be amazed at what you find stirring within.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS FINDING YOURSELF
This lesson takes me back to my first year in college. I served in the early childhood education program, Jumpstart, and loved it! Then, a friend reminded me that I could not pile on loans just to be a teacher. I swiftly switched my aspirations toward Corporate America.
Let’s fast forward to my time in Shenzhen, China. When I recognized that I felt full of life while teaching–it wasn’t that I found some completely new person. I had just stopped lying to myself. I have always been an educator, but somewhere along the line I told myself that being an educator wasn’t good enough.
There’s no such thing as finding yourself. You never got lost. A truer statement is that we all need to become comfortable in our own skin. When we are unclouded by the expectations of our external environments, we are free to live out our true selves.
THE WORLD IS A REALLY BIG PLACE
It sounds like common sense, but the world is a really big place. When I looked out at the ingenuity of the Great Wall of China, I realized how minimal my everyday complaints were. I met natives of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Cambodia who made daily sacrifices to put food on their tables. Yet, they still lived and loved with smiles on their faces. In many ways, seeing more of the world put my own small life into perspective. I have been blessed beyond measure.
Nothing is wrong with feeling sorry for yourself. After all, sorrow is a part of your truth. The problem arises when you become imprisoned in self-pity. We have life to live abundantly. One small encounter with the world’s wondrous scenery will remind you not to waste your entire lifetime on complaints and regrets.
RECOGNIZE YOUR FEAR, AND TRY AGAIN ANYWAY
In hindsight, it was probably a bit ambitious to apply to highly competitive doctoral programs with a little over a year of work experience and less than average test scores. Ambition is OK. I failed…12 times. Failure is OK too. My failure led a detour that expanded my world.
Despite all I had learned, I was still terrified. I hope you’ve caught the pattern by now—fear is OK too. I trembled each time I hit the submit button on my recent graduate school applications.
Thankfully, I received a different outcome this time around. My University of Pennsylvania acceptance came first, followed by Stanford, Harvard, and so forth. My inbox was filled with acceptance letters and funding for each program.
TEACH SOMEONE ELSE
While my acceptance into these schools is surely a part of my highlight reel—it is all meaningless if I neglect to use my knowledge, skills, and passion to help someone else. Prior to leaving for graduate school, I’ve committed myself to serving my Washington D.C. community by launching the summer reading program Booked Kids. The goal is to teach children one of my favorite lessons—you can travel anywhere with a book.
You don’t have to launch a community initiative. (By now you must get it…I’m an overachiever). Rather, one of the surest ways to overcome a setback is by recognizing that you are gifted enough to serve someone else. It can be as simple as volunteering an hour or sharing a word of encouragement.
I wrote this post on purpose. We are inundated by social media messages where EVERYONE is celebrating their highlights. Please don’t forget that the highlight is only one part of the larger picture. Every failure, success, tear, and smile is a gift. It is how we use each gift that ultimately determines our outcomes.