When I was a freshman, I gathered all my meager self-confidence and sent a writing sample to the Newswire. I was soundly ignored.
On the long list of Things I Don’t Handle Well, failure is in the top three, along with flirtatious conversation and Excel spreadsheets. To give you an idea of just how much I hate failure, I am currently pursuing an economics degree purely out of spite because I failed the first quiz in Dr. Yi’s Principles class two years ago.
So when I never heard back from the Newswire, I was ready to burn everything I had ever written and move to New Zealand and retreat to a mountaintop hermitage. Instead, I decided to pick myself up and try again, certain that I’d learned a valuable lesson and could now move on with my life rejection-free.
It’s a good thing no one told me then that in the next two years I would be rejected by the Athenaum and a whole assortment of internships. I’d be rejected for roles that I wanted in theatre productions. I would be rejected by cute boys and friends and various neighborhood cats that I just wanted to snuggle. I would say insensitive things and make jokes that don’t land. I would work for five months on a research paper and have an undergraduate journal say it’s not interested.
Feel sorry for me yet? Well, don’t. I’m a strong believer in a positive relationship between number of failures and number of successes. (If there is empirical evidence that such a relationship does not exist, please don’t tell me.) The more stuff you try, the more you are going to fail, but the same holds true for how much you’ll succeed.The trick is not letting the failures convince you that you are never going to bounce back.
Basing your value as a person on grades and resumes and accomplishments can make for a tumultuous ride. If you’re like me and something as simple as a “no” can make you evaporate into a cloud of self-loathing, that’s a pretty big incentive to just stay in bed. And as we have all learned since the invention of Netflix, staying in bed all the time is a great recipe for wasting life.
Learning to be bad at stuff is the most important thing college has taught me. Because being good at stuff is never enough. You can have a 4.0, but you still need that perfect internship. You can get the internship, but then you need that leadership position. There will never be enough successes to convince you that you’re valuable.
The great thing about rejection is that while nabbing the next accomplishment on your list gets harder and harder, rejection gets progressively easier. The first time I was rejected for something, I had my suitcases packed for New Zealand. The second time, it was just an overnight bag. Now I only momentarily consider how difficult it would be to make a living as a traveling minstrel.
The more comfortable you become with rejection, the more you can let the failures roll off your back and focus on the moments when you get it right. Plus, the successes will be a lot more meaningful when you risked looking like an idiot.
I know that this article is like a mix of a lame, inspirational Facebook graphic and that “Try Again” song by Aaliyah. But as I begin my time as Newswire Editor-in-Chief, the thing I’m most happy about is that I kept bugging them until they let me write. Really, I’m happy about every single time these last three years that I’ve tried something and been bad at it. If I had not sent out 50 hokey cover letters as a freshman and been rejected 49 times, I never would have begun the relationship with the Cincinnati Business Courier that has led to a full-time intern position this summer. If I had never written a terrible poem, I never would have tried writing a play. If I had never been ignored by the Newswire, I would have had zero ideas for this article.
Three years into college, I still hate failure. But I no longer let the fear of it determine what I pursue. So go out and suck at something today. Eventually, you won’t regret it.