The daughter of a friend of mine was rejected last week from both her first and second-choice law schools. She was wait-listed from the third and hasn’t heard yet from the fourth. Understandably, she was demoralized. She’d been dreaming of living in Chicago next year and eventually, law degree in hand, working for the FBI.
Her dad asked me to give her a call, so I did. First, I commiserated. Then I tried to buoy her with platitudes. (“When one door closes, another opens,” I said.) But I have to admit that other than assuring her that she’s loved no matter whether she gets into law school or not, I doubt I helped much.
A few days later I was chatting with another mom who had also contacted my friend’s daughter. This woman had a radically different approach. She said to the girl, “What’s your game plan? How are you going to move forward?” The woman then suggested that the girl contact the one school she was wait-listed from and ask what she could do to increase her chances of acceptance. She also advised being proactive and writing a letter to the school she hadn’t heard from yet, updating the admissions committee on any accomplishments she’d had and awards she’d earned between when she’d originally applied and now. And finally, the woman said, “Look at your alternatives."
Consider, for instance, moving to Chicago anyway and getting a job at a law firm. If after witnessing firsthand what it’s like to be a lawyer, you still want to become one, then re-apply. If you don’t like what you see, you’ll have learned something about yourself.”
Listening to the woman tell the story, I was in awe of how she handled the situation. It hadn’t occurred to me to suggest to the girl different ways of moving forward. When I commended the woman for being so helpful, she told me that she never accepts rejection outright. “Sometimes you’ve got to fight for what you want,” she said.
When it gets down to it, we don’t have a heck of a lot of spare time to toss away licking our wounds and feeling sorry for ourselves. Life might feel slow when it’s moving forward; but looking back, it happens in the blink of an eye. An occasional pity party is fine, sometimes even fun in a perverse sort of way. But how much more fun would it be if each of us, when faced with a setback, said to ourselves not “Why me?” but “How can I move forward?”