FELDHAUSEN: It only takes one “yes”

Finding success sometimes takes great patience and perseverance

Rejection stings — and I am well acquainted with rejection in its most gracious form: “we had an incredibly competitive group of qualified candidates and were very impressed by your application; however, we regret to inform you…”

Ouch. We all know how that finishes.

Getting the courage to write this article was tough; who really wants to publicly admit their personal laundry list of rejections? And believe me when I say that mine is quite the list, covering everything from paid jobs, to leadership roles, to even philanthropic group membership. Try explaining this concept to your non-University friends or family: at this school, you have to compete to volunteer. Want to lead tours for potential students and visitors? Other schools give the role to almost anyone to fill the positions — and they pay you to do it. Here however, the tryout process is difficult and highly selective, perhaps not unlike auditioning for the lead role in a theater production. Oh yeah, and if you make the cut, you do it for free too.

Between my first and second years at the University, I had more rejections than I can count on my two hands. But this article isn’t a criticism of the University’s culture of involvement; in fact, the competitive nature of organizations here is a testament to how healthy and robust extracurricular life is at this school. I’ve never felt more impressed by the importance of giving back, and I have always been inspired by the selfless nature of the student body here. And watching my peers shoulder huge responsibilities and accomplish amazing things — preserving Honor, reviving Homecomings, managing all CIO funding and even starting a business — has empowered me to lead like never before.

Nevertheless, this isn’t reassuring when you’re conditioned to accept “no” as a fact of your life. Maybe you’re just not cut out for this scene, right?

Some of you might have applied to all kinds of committees, excited to throw your time and energy into that perfect CIO, but instead just found yourself opening one disappointing e-mail after another. I’ve been there.

Some of you might have just experienced the heartache (yes, heartache) that is rush and rejection. While your hallmates run off to chapter, mixers, and gush about their new best friends, you’re left on the sidelines wondering if you will ever find community at the University. I’ve been there too.

Some of you might even have applied to internships or summer jobs and come up empty-handed. You felt confident that last interview or application was perfect, but then ended up worrying about passing the summer just teaching yourself how to cook. Don’t fret; summer jobs eluded me as well. And time spent learning your way around the kitchen is never a waste.

We’ve all heard the old cliché, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But it’s worth repeating because sometimes we are faced with so much failure that we doubt our own merit.

But it only takes one yes, just one opportunity, to change everything.

My yes came at the end of second year, when I finally received an email headed by “Congratulations!” It’s a little embarrassing that I re-read the email probably five or six times. I almost couldn’t believe that I had at last been given the opportunity that I had been yearning for: to showcase my own skills outside of the classroom and refine my leadership abilities. I threw myself into the role, determined to prove my worth and dedication. I was fortunate to work with a group of phenomenally talented and passionate peers, and I’m so proud of all that we accomplished together. Not only did I gain confidence and experience leading a team, but also an incredible group of friends.

From that position came a whirlwind of other opportunities: I studied abroad, chaired a philanthropic committee, worked an internship, secured a job and found a community in the Fourth Year Trustees. As we all know, it’s much easier to get a job with experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. Today especially, this experience can seem all the more important when it’s so painfully obvious that great jobs and opportunities are not waiting around every corner.

In our hyper-competitive world, most, if not all of us are going to hear more “no” than “yes” — and that is okay. My time here at the University taught me one of the most valuable and difficult lessons outside of the classroom.

Do not measure your worth by counting the “no“s.

What really counts is what you do with the “yes.”

Erika Feldhausen is a fourth-year Trustee.

Published February 5, 2014 in Opinion

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