The List: Three Ways to Deal with Rejection

Earlier this week, I wrote about applying for grants and awards. I also wrote about how I've been rejected more often than usual this year. I don't take these rejections personally and, at this point in my career, I can usually brush them off after 24-hours of unrestrained self-pity. But what happens when there's a grant or award that you REALLY want? How do you prepare for the worst when you've possibly spent YEARS dreaming of the best?

1. Write an "in case of rejection" letter.
In the Fulbright folder on my desktop, you'll find a document labeled "In Case of Rejection." The opening paragraph reads as thus:

So you got rejected from the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program. I know that you’re extremely disappointed right now; in fact, you may be huddled up in the staff bathroom, weeping onto the grimy tiled floor. But before you throw yourself from the fifth floor window of your classroom, I wanted to remind you of a few things.

The rest of the letter reads like a locker room speech from Friday Night Lights. I remind myself that while the Fulbright might seem like a great opportunity, there are plenty of "open windows" in the US that might be even better for me. This officially qualifies as "sour grapes," but I knew that, at the end of the day, it was what I would need to make me feel better. (After receiving the email notifying me that I'd been "recommended for selection," I actually wrote a second "In Case of Rejection" document reflecting the change in my expectations. This one wasn't focused on finding "open windows" in the US as much as reminding myself that there were other ways to get to the UK. I'd researched open Sabbatical positions at international schools in the UK. I'd started looking into funding for doctoral programs at UK universities. I reminded myself that I'd overcome tons of obstacles [or, in my words: You bashed those Goombas with your SeeVees-clad kickers, you badass] and that I deserved to take a chance on making my dreams come true -- whether that was through the Fulbright or not.)

If you're applying for a grant that you really want, like more-than-anything-in-the-world want, then make sure you have an "In Case of Rejection" document ready to go. Write down whatever will make you feel better in the moment. If you get accepted, you'll be able to open up those documents and have a good laugh. But if you get rejected, you'll be thankful to yourself for the uplifting words.

(Another good way to deal with rejection)

2. Plan what you're going to do next.
Having Plan B-Z ready to go at a moment's notice can really help you get through those periods of uncertainty. Don't get me wrong: you need to be flexible and roll with the punches sometimes. But having other opportunities lined up can do a lot to alleviate stress. As previously mentioned, I started looking up different UK-based programs that I could apply for if the Fulbright didn't come through. I also started applying for jobs in education departments on and off Broadway. Part of the reason why I applied for the Fulbright was because of teacher burnout. Regardless of IIE's decision, I knew that I needed to take a break from the classroom -- whether that meant a structured short-term sabbatical or simply pursuing another career path for a little while. Knowing that there were extraordinary jobs out there with non-profit organizations that I adored (Roundabout Theatre Company! Public Theater! Second Stage!) made me feel much more confident about my future.

NOTE: I had a few interviews lined up at the time that I received the Fulbright. I thought about going ahead with them and seeing "where the chips fell." However, I ultimately decided to cancel the interviews. I knew that if I received a job offer on Broadway, I would have been tormented by what to do -- regardless of how long I'd dreamed about the Fulbright. Having more options doesn't necessarily make your life better. In fact, according to researcher Barry Schwartz (and his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less), "decision fatigue" can be a key part of our unhappiness. So if you end up getting what you want, close out all other options and commit!

3. Find another source of excitement.
You want to have a "sure thing" in your back pocket that will a) require tons of planning and b) still get you excited during the toughest times. For me, that was my summer trip to Ireland and the UK. Whenever I found myself dwelling on the Fulbright, I would invest another few hours into trip planning. Every time I received an email from an artist that I deeply admired, I'd get a little "buzz" of excitement that would take my mind off of the perpetual waiting. Whenever I felt plagued by the precarious uncertainty of my future, I would buy some travel gear off of Amazon. (That said, shopping has become the pastime to cure all ills this year. I'm usually the most spendthrift person in the world, but this has been the year of the department store spree.) Or I'd download another Lonely Planet guide off of Kindle Unlimited.

My trip was also a great succor for Fulbright anxiety because I knew that, even if they did reject my application, I was definitely going to be traveling to the UK. While my short summer research grant wasn't the extended project of my dreams, it would at least give me a jumping-off point. Whenever I became too "wound up" about a possible rejection, that would set my mind at ease for at least a couple of hours.

If there's a grant out there that you REALLY want, the fear of rejection becomes a million times stronger. But don't let that keep you from submitting your application! Instead, make sure that you have a few methods for dealing with the worst case scenario and, if all else fails, remember: you can always apply again next year!

Day Twelve (31 Days of Trip Planning): Booked a free walking tour for my first day in Dublin. I'm always skeptical of tourist attractions, but The Savvy Backpacker insists that walking tours are a good idea, and I trust them. I also alerted all of my banks about my travel plans. Learned my lesson on that one in Las Vegas.

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