Growing up, I’ve always felt this enduring pressure to succeed. This pressure didn’t originate from my parents or teachers or community; it came from myself. In everything that I did, I set unrealistically high expectations for myself. Like anyone else, I didn’t always think I would be accepted for everything I applied to (especially when it came to college admission), but to an extent, I equated acceptance from peers and institutions to success. As a result of that, rejection became synonymous with failure in my personal dictionary. But if my few experiences in college so far have taught me anything at all, it’s that rejection is not synonymous with failure.
During my first few weeks at Cal, I found myself presented with various opportunities to apply to clubs and run for leadership positions. But instead of applying to everything that interested me, I only applied to the organizations that I believed I could get into. I only aimed for groups that I believed would accept me. But in doing so, in only trying as hard as I thought I needed to, I condemned myself to rejection; I cultivated my own “failure” because I didn’t think these organizations deserved my best effort. So naturally, when I was rejected from not one, not two, but four positions that I earnestly believed I could succeed in attaining, I was mortified. Suddenly, the size of Berkeley seemed to matter in ways it hadn’t before. I felt like the tiniest guppy trying to cross the Pacific Ocean. Each rejection letter broke me a little bit more until I concluded that I just wasn’t good enough. Clearly, I thought, I don’t belong at Berkeley.
There are hundreds of ways I could tell this story, but to delve into every detail will do nothing but distract from the purpose of sharing this experience. I’ve had the privilege of knowing that my goal in this life is to do anything I can to help others in my future career. Therefore, every step I can take towards that goal is a victory in my book and every rejecton, like my most recent loss, feels like a colossal step backwards. Instead of being able to join a group of community builders, I must find a new way to continue moving forward. But as a new friend of mine said to me: there is more than one path to the path of helping others. Just because this opportunity didn’t work out doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. Rejection is not failure as long as you can grow from the experience. And yes, you will be upset; you might even feel like giving up. But if you let one rejection control you then you allow yourself to be defeated. I don’t expect to miraculously rise above my damaged ego or forgo my feelings of self-pity. But I’m working on it. And for now, since that’s the best I can do, it’s exactly what I’m going to push myself towards.