How to Deal with Rejection and Defeat

I’m not talking about dating here.  Actually, I’m referring to everything except that. Because the truth is, sometimes life lets you down.

All of a sudden you find out you got laid off your job, or get a call about how you were not chosen for that new job you applied for.  You apply to your dream school as a senior in high school, and then when that infamous letter shows up in the mail it begins with those dreadful first words: “We regret to inform you…”.

Or maybe it’s the big game or competition, and when it all comes down to that one moment, you let yourself down.  And then, it seems as if all is lost.  Even those times in life when you do get a so-called “win”, there’s usually someone else out there who is on the losing end, once again whether it be for a college, job, sport, etc, you name it.

But for me specifically, it was a scholarship.


And not just any scholarship.  The past few years I have applied to way too many scholarships to count – because of college, of course.  And people aren’t kidding when they refer to us as broke college kids!  Practically broke and up to their eyeballs in debt, unless they’re lucky enough to have some sort of means to pay for it all without loans.  I am constantly aware or am reminded of these exorbitant amounts I’m paying so that I can get a degree, and the loans I’ve taken out to satisfy these costs will be hanging over my head for the rest of my college career, and long after as well.

So yes, I’ve applied to so many scholarships hoping for some, any sort of way to lessen this burden I’ll be lugging around for a long time.  A few I got, most I didn’t, but I never really got bothered by not receiving them.  It was just money.  It did mean I would have to work that much harder the next four years and after, but nothing worth getting upset over.

But this scholarship was different.  I applied to something called the Critical Language Scholarship, a program I had discovered way back during my junior year of high school and had been excited to apply for ever since.  And once I did get the chance this year, my first year of college, I put every last effort into making my application the best it could be.  I spent hours writing the required essays and finding references and researching, and then rereading and editing everything again and again.  I was determined.

Why? Because this wasn’t your basic scholarship – this was a government scholarship for the study of critical languages (in my case, Arabic).  If I got accepted into the program, then I would have the opportunity to go abroad to either Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, or Oman for the entire summer to immerse myself in the culture and take intensive Arabic classes.  And every last bit of it would be paid for.  This wasn’t just any scholarship – this was an adventure.  An unrivaled experience to travel to a new country and explore while learning a language without worrying about a budget.  And that was why I put in every last effort on that application and didn’t rest until the deadline, when I submitted it.  The way I was seeing things was that my summer would either be spent traveling, exploring, and speaking a new language, or stuck at home working at an ice cream parlor.

river adventure-run

Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.  

When the week came for the first round acceptance emails to come out, that was all I could think about.  Every morning, I would open my eyes and automatically grab my phone and press the email button, hoping to see that decisive “Critical Language Scholarship” email to pop up.

I figured, if anything, I had a good chance to at least make it past the first round.  Because, I had a good application, right?  Tons of work with international students, determination to work with the language after I graduated, good grades, an amazing reference from my equally amazing Arabic professor;  Wasn’t that what they wanted?

If only I could have mentally prepared myself, because I don’t think I had been ready for having my hopes completely dashed.  They were all just taken, thrown to the ground, and crushed and there was nothing that could have prepared me for that awful feeling of emptiness and failure inside me that ensued.

It happened while I was running through the school bookstore, trying to find the Spanish book I needed to buy for class.  All of a sudden, I started getting Facebook notifications from the CLS page, with people declaring that they had received the email and also news of whether or not they had proceeded to the final round.  A couple had good news to share; almost everyone had bad news.

I was getting nervous.  And then, a few moments later, right on time, my phone buzzed, the telltale sound that I had a new email.  And it could only be one thing.

“Anne, we are sorry to inform you that your application has not been forwarded on for the final round…”

I didn’t even need to hear the rest.  I shoved my phone in my pocket and stumbled around the store with a blank stare until I had  found the Spanish book I had come for, and then walked as quickly back to my room as I could.  Once in solitude, I just lost it.  I sat on the floor crying for a good thirty minutes, feeling like a sore loser, letting the reality of how that shred of hope of being able to explore a new country this summer had been lost.

Now this isn’t just some depressing post about how life sucks sometimes.  Compared to what most people struggle with in life, this is NOTHING – just a first world problem.

No, this post is about how to deal with life when things like this happen.  So now comes the part that you all might be interested in – the HOW part of this, not some narrative by me.

The very first thing you should do…

Just let it all out

Shit happens.  It’s all right.  And whatever emotion that shit is stirring up inside of you, let it out while you have the time.  Don’t let it sit and fester or else you’ll just end up exploding some other time or start stressing even more. And don’t take it out on other people.  No one needs to be dragged into your vicious cycle of self wallowing and pity.  And neither is it necessary, so please do just get out of your system when you’re bursting with it.

For me, letting it out involved finding a quiet, private spot and just crying my eyes out for a little bit.  All of my hopes, all of my expectations, all of my daydreams of venturing out into the Sahara, exploring a souq, meeting Bedouins and witnessing Petra out in Wadi Rum, they had all been vanquished with a blink of an eye, or the words of an email message.  So I did go ahead and let it out, and once I had calmed down I began to see a little more clearly again.

Nothing is a be all to end all unless you let it be

It’s true – the future is never set in stone.  You may have this set idea planted in your head about how you want your future to be, but who says that’s for sure? It’s not.  You just have to trust that even if things aren’t gearing towards your preferred direction, they’re still going in the right direction.  Every choice you make and action you take affects how your future will play out, of course, but sometimes things are just out of your own hands and you just have to accept that, and roll with it.

This scholarship and the results of it were absolutely out of my hands.  But I wasn’t giving up at that – I was determined.  My big goal for my college career, if any, is to become fluent in Arabic, and I knew for a fact that just attending regular classes at school was NOT going to be enough.  I believe that to successfully become fluent in any language, it’s not only important, but it’s necessary to immerse oneself in a place where the language is spoken…

Set your sights on another goal

…Which brings me to my next big idea.  If one possibility doesn’t work out, dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and realize that there are countless others out there waiting.  One door closes, and a thousand others are sitting there unlocked.  Just don’t forget that you do have to actually open them yourself.  Very rarely are they just going to magically open and invite you in as if some ghost were standing there, contrary to the popular saying.  Seize every opportunity, and never give up.

Just because I didn’t get that one scholarship, I most certainly wasn’t going to give up.  Within hours of finding out I had not been a recipient, I went to work on the internet.  I found multiple other scholarships, and after hours of sitting in an armchair and doing extensive research on my laptop, I found a program for this summer that just might work out.

If I were to do this program, then I would be spending a vast majority of my summer living with a host family in Morocco and acquiring a year’s worth of Arabic.  The catch – I have to find a way to pay for it.  That’s always the catch, isn’t it?  But with a little luck, and doing everything I possibly can to find a job on campus, then I just might be able to.

And if things don’t work out, then that’s alright too.  I may just end up back in New Hampshire, but no matter what, I’m not giving up.  And I can’t forget that I have spent every other summer of my life in New England – just because I am setting high expectations for this year doesn’t mean it’s the way that it has to be.

And last but not least…Never put all your eggs in one basket.  Of course this is something I should have done before.  I should have looked into ALL my options at the beginning of the year, which I didn’t do and am now struggling with.  If I apply to dozens of different programs and possible opportunities, then chances are at least one of them is going to work out.  And that is exactly what I’m doing next summer!

So seriously, just don’t worry.  Keep your head up, don’t get too worked up because you didn’t get one little scholarship, or even a HUGE scholarship, or whatever, and keep moving forward, wherever it may take you.

Have you ever had a major letdown in life?

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