Six years ago, I got everything I wanted.
Offer to teach at a Johns Hopkins University summer program? Yep.
A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study at Amherst College? Yep.
Present at the National Council of Teachers of English conference? Yep.
All things I applied for, all things I got. I felt pretty invincible.
Lately, though, I’ve been on a string of rejections. My students’ journalism work is not recognized as quality by state organizations or local universities. I didn’t receive a small scholarship to help with the cost of graduate classes. I applied to be an Apple Distinguished Educator and was denied. I’m currently waiting to hear back from NCTE again to see if I will present at their fall conference, and waiting to hear about a program with the Journalism Education Association.
I don’t expect to get either opportunity.
So it appears I peaked at 38.
My students deal with rejection all the time: positions on teams that don’t fall their way, scholarship money denied, colleges who say “Thanks, but no thanks.” So I see my recent streak of rejection as a chance to teach them: here’s how you handle it.
Don’t throw a tantrum.
Don’t look to blame others.
Don’t give up.
Reflect honestly on why you wanted whatever it was.
Decide if you still want it.
If you do still want it, reflect honestly on what went wrong. This can be painful at first, but most growth is painful. Identify what needs to change. Then, change. This is also at times painful, but reaps the most benefits.
If you don’t still want it, move on. Find another passion, another achievement, another goal. Reflect honestly on why you want it, then reflect honestly on what it takes to get it.
Then work. Work hard. Put down the phone, turn off Netflix, and sometimes, tell your friends, “Not this weekend.”
Rejection is a hard teacher. In my 17-year career, I’ve been referred to as a “hard teacher”–a label I quite enjoy. Because I know from my own education that the hardest teachers taught me the most, but only when I was willing to listen.
What is rejection telling me now?
Be honest. And don’t quit.