4 Strategies to Deal with Rejection & Rethink Personal Success

By Sami Schwartz ’13, Public and Community Health, Center for Health and Wellbeing Intern

what success really looks like


The one word no one wants to hear after four years of working hard in their undergraduate education. The one word no one wants to hear after endless hours of studying for graduate exams. The one word no one wants to hear after so much time spent filling out applications and going on interviews.

Rejected. A word everyone should get to know and accept.

As a good student who always got involved with everything that came my way, I was not used to this word. From middle school through college, I was always accepted to the things I applied for- sports teams, clubs, honor societies, scholarships, college, teacher assistant positions, part-time jobs, sorority, and so on.

Part of me thought that I was just lucky, but I also knew I always put forth all my effort to get what I wanted. However, about three weeks ago instead of seeing the word “congratulations” on a graduate school decision letter, I saw “rejected.”

I had to become familiar with a word that had not been in my vocabulary for the past 21 years.

I used to think personal success was defined as accomplishing what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it. It was a personal success to get an “A” on an exam or to shed minutes off your morning run. My recent experience with rejection has caused me to re-think and expand my definition of personal success.

I’m graduating from Maryland in about 2 months and I have no idea what I am doing afterwards. I don’t know what graduate school I am going to get into, or if I will get into any at all. I don’t know what path I am going to take or what obstacles I will face along that path.

For the first time, things are uncertain.

We grow up; go to elementary school, followed by middle and high school. We are told to go to a good college or we won’t get a good job. Then what? Who tells you what to do from there?

This is where creating your own definition of personal success comes in.

After several days of digesting one of my first big “no”s, I figured some things out when it comes to dealing with rejection and defining success.

  1. Don’t panic. Try not to panic if you don’t get into your first choice graduate school or get the job offer you wanted. You can always re-apply or cast a wider net next time around. Panic will only make it more difficult to chart a different course after a set-back.
  2. Let go of the notion of the “right” decision. There’s really no such things as the “right” school or job. Make decisions based on what’s right for you. This may change over time – keep your options open.
  3. Don’t lose sight of what you love. Just because you may feel like you’re “settling” after graduation for a job or school you think is less than ideal, this is only the first chapter of your professional life. Even if it isn’t the work you want to do for the rest of your life, it’s a start and you don’t know where it might lead you. Don’t abandon your dreams or goals just because they seem far away in the moment.
  4. Tune others out and tune into yourself. Set aside what others have told you will make you successful and go after the school or job that will help create the life you’ve imagined for yourself. It is more important to go after personal satisfaction and enrichment than trying to meet others expectations.

For me, I am still waiting to hear back from other graduate schools. At least I know this time if that word appears on the paper in front of me, I won’t be in as much shock.

I’m confident I’ll eventually become the passionate and talented nurse I have worked hard (and will continue to work hard) to become; it may just take some time!

How do you define personal success? What are your dreams for after school?

This entry was posted in Emotional Wellness, Vocational Wellness. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 4 Strategies to Deal with Rejection & Rethink Personal Success

  1. Tara says:

    I really enjoyed this blog and I think it applies to everyone. No one is going to get through life achieving everything in their ideal way. It’s important to be open-minded and take every rejection as an opportunity to explore a different path, whatever that may be. Also, it’s important to not view your own success based on the success of others. Thanks for the insight!

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