I am not going to lie to you and tell you I am some amazingly well read individual. To be honest, the first time I ever read a book, for pleasure, was my sophomore year in college.
The one author who I stumbled upon that year, and ever since gravitated towards, was the late Kurt Vonnegut. His dark, satirical writing style was almost humbling to me. His style of writing forces you to challenge your own beliefs, world views, and open your mind.
The story depicts Vonnegut’s experience during the war, specifically during the unimaginable atrocity that was the fire-bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut surprisingly survived, seeking shelter in an underground meat locker.
After every violent death and graphic war detail, the readers are greeted with these three simple, yet powerful words: “So it goes.”
Unfortunately, this sentiment is the sad reality of the world we live in. Shit happens. You get smacked in the face. People can pass away in the blink of an eye. Rejection and regret can become all but second nature. With all of that, while you endure these struggles, the world keeps spinning, people carry on around you, and your life is still carrying on, whether you are ready or not.
Nevertheless, all is okay. We have the opportunity and choice to rise above and overcome. We can handle it. We will move on and turn these hardships into positive outlooks.
We have to equally accept and dismiss what we have endured by acknowledging, reflecting, moving forward, and growing from this negative experience we have had to endure. This is the meaning that this ingenious phrase gave to me and has acted as a guiding principal through the hardships of my life.
Remember, when you find yourself in a moment of time that is difficult, strenuous, emotional, grievous, or anything else in between, it IS just a singular moment of time. It is only a small roadblock that you are fully capable of overcoming. Once you fight through it, you will come out as a stronger, more experienced, and more self-aware individual.
For example, when I was in my undergrad at Emmanuel College, I was majoring in Biology. Despite not being the most dedicated or successful high school student, during college tenure I fully dedicated myself to my academics. Maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout my freshmen year, engaging in extracurriculars on campus, conducting laboratory research for 4 years (1 being at Harvard Medical) and graduating with the distinction of Cum Laude, I set my sights on applying for Ph.D programs in Pharmacology at some of the top institutions including Cornell, Tufts, BU, & Duke.
During the interview stages at Cornell and Tufts, I quickly realized that the competition was much more fierce than I had anticipated (who would’ve thought that right). Each candidate graduated from a top university with some having higher level degrees or work experience that was well beyond what I could have possibly achieved. As if the odds were not stacked against me enough, I was informed that both Cornell and Tufts accepted no more than 15 applicants from the thousands that apply. As you can imagine, it just wasn’t in the cards.
In that moment, I was extremely overcome with emotion with the first and foremost being disappointment.
Everything I had worked so hard for over these four years, everything I set my sights on, in a single moment crashed before me.
It was Friday. Three days after I found out about my rejection to all of my potential programs.
In need of some time to myself, I sat in my dorm room with a tall glass of my good friend Jack Daniels and turned on some Radiohead to chill out too. I kicked my feet up on my bed and took notice of the book shelf above me. Browsing through the selection, I eventually had Slaugher-House 5 in my hands again.
In an instant, my mind was overwhelmed as I remembered all of the deep meaning value this book had provided me in the past. Reflecting deeply on this repeated phrase, while finishing my second glass, it took no longer than 30 minutes before I found myself reaching out to a friend as I was in dire need of some solid venting about how I was responding to this rejection.
1) A Compliment: The fact that I was one of 15-30 applicants to be selected for the final interview spoke volumes to my ability and hard work. I was viewed as a top candidate in comparison to others who had received degrees from more prestigious schools and having more accolades than I could imagine. I was on their level, and that in itself was a major accomplishment.
2) An Opportunity: This rejection then opened up a vast number of opportunities moving forward. I had to decide “Did I really want work for a year out of college, re-apply to Ph D. programs, hopefully get accepted, work 6 years to get that degree and then start my career & life?” I pondered what other things brought me joy, value, and reward. What are the strengths that I bring to the table? What is something that I want to experience?
I tried out a few things to be honest. I did apply to some pharmaceutical companies, worked with an HR/Sales recruiter and landed a small 3-week gig, but then I ultimately decided that I loved tutoring in college. I was reminded by the two or three teachers who really made an impact and changed my life. I knew this could be achieved by becoming a biology teacher.
Within a few months, I decided to take the necessary tests to get my license to teach, and landed a job at my former high school, working with the exact students whom I genuinely wanted to have positive impact on.
3) A Reality Check: I was left thinking about the life I would’ve had attending either Cornell or Tufts. What was success to me? To me, being able to formulate a drug with health benefits was a major goal. That would be success. The reality of the industry though made me realize that the odds of achieving that success were even less than those I had when applying to Cornell in the first place. Even if I did make that successful drug, would I really feel that deep, meaningful, passionate reward that I was looking for in life?
It was clear to me that this feeling could only come from a career that allowed me to work directly with people where I could have a positive impact on their lives, both immediately and long-term. Not only was I passionate about working with people, but it was something that came naturally. With that, I found myself on a different path to success.
So you see, that life altering moment of rejection and seeming life derailment has led me to a space and time that now brings me great meaning and passion. THIS, I will be forever grateful for. Whatever hardship sits in front of you, whatever mistakes you have made, whatever negative thing that is occurring to you or the ones around you right now, you must learn to both accept it as it is, understand the impact it has, learn from it, and then dismiss it with your head held up high knowing that you came out the other end a stronger individual.
Do you have a book or phrase or saying that has impacted you or guided you through your life? Let us know what it is in the comments and how it has helped you!