February 25, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Rejection: The Worst Thing You Never Knew You Needed

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We come to Cornell told that we are the best of the best, scoring in the 99th percentile in standardized testing and consistently top of our high school class but what happens when the best of the best are living in a microcosm? The answer is rejection. Yesterday, I was rejected from two professional fraternities within a 12-hour period, and this morning when I arrived downstairs to have breakfast with my sorority sisters I was greeted with a similar air of rejection followed by stories of disappointment. I realized that a common feature of the Cornell experience is rejection. We all experience it in nearly all avenues of our daily lives. The notorious hookup culture of Cornell is a beacon of rejection: academically, no Cornellian has not had their ego shattered by a C, Sorority and Fraternity rush is ultra-competitive and every student has tried out for a club only to be denied admission. One sorority sister this morning told me that she was zero for seven — this semester alone.

Though the immediate aftermath of rejection has a sting similar to being slapped in the face — followed by a lingering embarrassment that makes you want to crawl in a cave and never come out — rejection is actually the worst best gift you have ever received. It is the behavioral equivalent of receiving a book for Christmas as a child. You might prefer the instant gratification a Barbie Dream House would bring, but the book forces you to expand your mind and reminds you that sometimes not getting what you want is just what you need.

If this overly optimistic view comes off as an annoying and unrealistic, you have to know that the person writing this is a peppy blonde obsessed with the Elle Woods character from Legally Blonde. The negative experiences of your life should be used to fuel the positive. Without failure, you would be unable to recognize your successes. I am not immune to the devastation associated with rejection; I just cried in the middle of Uris library after being sent an apology email from the rush chair, and I’d be lying if I said the overly professional rejection letter I received the moment I woke up this morning was not soul-crushing and utterly embarrassing, realizing that my name was discussed in a room full of people I know and see on a daily basis. The apologetic emails and texts by members offering to help me with my career goals only fueled the rejection fire.

The lesson to be learned is you can’t always get what you want, and growth often comes from not getting it. When we leave college and enter the “real” world there will be more rejection on a daily basis than we will experience in our four years, and at much higher stakes. The important thing is to learn how to be confident in yourself even when you fail, and to not judge yourself by the perception of others. Sometimes you have to lose a mental battle to win the war of life.

I walked away from this experience with a better understanding of the interview process and who I am as a person. I was asked probing questions about why I am the way I am, and I have never been prouder of myself. Maybe I’m not professional fraternity material, but at least I know who I am and am better prepared for my future. Although, after hearing some of my answers to certain interview questions, my parents did suggest that I learn how to lie.

But I think I am safe to assume that when asked if you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, I am the first candidate ever to answer Joan Rivers. Let me explain: Joan Rivers underwent much hardship in her life but was always able to laugh at herself with self-deprecating humor.  She thrived in the comedy world wherein her own words, “rejection is the norm and acceptance the oddity.”

So, yes, it sucks to be rejected, but your rejection will help you learn how to handle criticism and understand the importance of your character. Even if you fail, always act with grace. Smile, even when your insides are crying, and be kind and grateful. In the moment, rejection is a bitter pill to swallow, but in the end, it may make you a better person and provide the proverbial cure.

Lily Elkwood is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.Comments may be sent to [email protected].