How to Deal With Rejections

Hey guys, this week’s tip is on dealing with rejection and failure. It’s a bit long so please bear with us.

We’ve all failed at something at least once in our lives. And if you haven’t yet … you will. I personally have feared failure since I can remember, all the way back to kindergarten. I lived my entire life doing as much as I could to avoid failure. Why did I fear failure so much? Well I thought it confirmed all the worst things I thought about myself and exposed them to the world. I thought each failure would close a door until I was left with no options and no one to blame but myself. So you can imagine how terrible my college application experience was. I blamed myself for each rejection and was filled with regret. Maybe I should’ve spent more time on the essay, maybe I should’ve worked harder in high school, or maybe I should’ve read more books as a kid. Whatever reason I came up with, I thought it had ruined my life forever – I mean, how will I ever find the time to read all those books I should’ve read as a kid? I wish I could tell you I realized how silly this mentality was soon enough. But no, I took acceptances I got as indicating luck, you know … as much as rejections surely indicated incompetence, and went to college set on doing everything right and not giving myself anything to regret. I’m now in my junior year of college and I can tell you that that didn’t go so well. But after multiple sessions feeling sorry for myself and crying it out, I’ve learned lessons that I think are important for you guys to hear. 

The best lesson I’ve learned is to NOT TAKE FAILURE  OR REJECTION PERSONALLY. And this is especially important to keep in mind when you guys hear back from the colleges you applied to. As much hard work as it needs, getting in to a college also needs a fair amount of luck. Getting rejected from a college doesn’t mean the end of the world nor does it mean you are any less than your peers. The best thing you can do is take it for what it is – a story, a lesson, motivation. Roadblocks only make your final destination all the more sweeter. 

Lesson 2 – Relax, have a little faith, everything is happening the way it should. It’s when you face these roadblocks that you are able to see the many paths you could take that lead you down an unexpected and beautiful journey. Imagine staying in Ethiopia … did you know that the location of the 2020 INTERNATIONAL Conference on Learning Representations(an artificial intelligence conference) is our very own Addis Ababa? Yeah guys, amazing things are happening in our country right now and not just in fields like Artificial Intelligence but numerous other fields as well. Staying in Ethiopia might actually open up more opportunities for you. Another option, if you can afford it, is community college. Community college is a great way to experience small classroom settings where you can get the attention that’ll allow you to prosper. And when the time comes you’ll be ready to transfer to the college of your choice. All I’m saying is, trust your struggles (I took this from a TED talk :-)). 

This isn’t to say that you should give up on studying abroad, which brings me to lesson 3 – IT’S NOT TOO LATE. Take gap years for example, many of us don’t know who we are or what we want when we go to college and gap years are a great way to change that. And you know what happens when you know what you want … amazing things. Not only only will you be more effective and successful in achieving your goals moving forward, other people (aka admissions officers) will easily be able to see your passion and your application will stand out. How could it not with all those amazing things you could do when you have an entire year. Believe me, gap years are your chance to do something that’ll impress the hell out of admissions officers.

Last lesson (I’m sort of still learning) – DON’T GIVE VALUE TO EXTERNAL VALIDATION because if you do you’ll fear having to be without it. Did you by any chance feel a lot of pressure when I said you can do something very impressive during your gap year? Did you get scared of disappointing your loved ones or even total strangers despite the supposedly many options available to you? That’s how I would’ve felt. And the only thing I can say to that is that it’s only going to hold you back. Many of us procrastinate because we think of failure before we even begin. We wait until we feel everything is perfect and we have maximized our chances of success so that eventually we can get that sweet sweet pat on the back. It’s as if we want to be assured that we’ll succeed before we can take on a task. And unfortunately, this is never going to happen. Don’t be scared to fail … failing is wonderful. And your loved ones will be proud of you for having the courage to put yourself in a position where you could fail because those are the ventures that pay off. Did I mention you should be proud of yourself? Seriously, you’re taking it upon your self and giving your best effort to bettering yourself, and that is very commendable.


The Author is a graduate of Columbia’s class of 2020 and is now working at Microsoft as a Software Engineer.

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