Sunday Times

Your applicatio­n has been refused

Everyone knows that when life gives you lemons you’re supposed to make lemonade, writes

- Hannah Massyn

‘The Department has reviewed your applicatio­n and judged it not to be competitiv­e with other applicants. Therefore, it is not possible to offer you admission.” I blink. It has all the delicacy and emotional padding of a Ben Shapiro tweet. Judged your applicatio­n not to be competitiv­e … Well, I think, that just about says it all.

Last year I’d decided to make a change, go fishing for “diem carps”, sneeze in the day, or whatever. I applied to various universiti­es overseas, and this piece of Shapirean literature is but the last in a series of rejection e-mails. The different, more focused me I had envisaged waves to me from an insurmount­able mountain top. (Her jawline is magnificen­t, even from this low angle.)

You must understand that I’m what you might call a triple C in the formerly gifted child department: Coddled, Competitiv­e, and Caucasian. And so, even though I have failed aplenty since I graduated high school, and received many a refusal, I had never received anything so brutally honest or cruel as that last rejection letter (E-MAIL). I think, perhaps, if I’d received it first, I may actually have hit send on the poem I penned in a fit of erudite antagonism: This is just to say I have received the rejection that was in my inbox and to which you were probably hoping I would not reply forgive me please reword your letter it is too brief and too cold (William Carlos Williams is always handy in a crisis.)

Luckily — I suppose — I was prevented from doing anything so foolhardy by whatever cosmic harmony produced the order in which the rejection letters arrived in my inbox. The first refusal was worded in standard, soothing corporate-speak: “I regret to inform you ... strong competitio­n this year ... limited places ... many applicatio­ns ... compelled to turn away many worthy applicants”. Look, there’s no getting around the fact that, whatever the wording, rejection sucks. But then it’s remarkably easy to yield to the solace available in those words “many worthy applicants”, and to cling to the belief they really did regret being “compelled” to turn you away.

The second refusal sent me on a Kafkaesque quest for meaning. I received a notificati­on e-mail saying that “a significan­t new decision” had been made on my applicatio­n, and I was asked to “please log in” at so-and-so a site to find out more. Ho ho! A “significan­t decision”, indeed? Unfortunat­ely the site was down, and when I eventually did manage to log in, nought regarding my applicatio­n could be found but a modest notice that a decision had been made. Upon further investigat­ion, the site in question helpfully clarified that a decision had been made to my applicatio­n. Long story short, after negotiatin­g a series of cyber-mazes, I eventually located the minotaur: “Click here to see your refusal letter” in the smallest, daintiest, most forgiving of prints.

Thus I was so fundamenta­lly deflated by the time the Shapiro-tweetesque rejection landed I really hadn’t the chutzpah left to demand a kinder refusal letter.

Now, in the face of failure and rejection it’s normal to pivot at this juncture, and to find some meaning in the whole thing, in the placid conviction that “everything happens for a reason”. Even better, if you can rebrand your failure into a “phoenix from the ashes” story, you’re strongly encouraged to do so. Come now, everyone knows that when life gives you lemons you’re supposed to make lemonade.

But what if you can’t identify with Oprah’s early failure and subsequent rise to mega-fame and billionair­e status? And what if you don’t care about how many times publishers rejected Harry Potter and the Philosophe­r’s Stone? What happens when you’re too far down the Jungian tree of self-actualisat­ion to embrace your disappoint­ment and to continue along without a hitch, exhibiting exemplary grace and pluck? Well, in that case you may be edging towards the precipice of sore loserdom, and you are reminded that — for your own safety — you should step back. After all, what was Hitler but the sorest art school reject of all time?

Some failures can indeed be so epic that they become achievemen­ts in themselves.

For instance, I have only ever heard about the Fyre Festival concerning its catastroph­ic failure. There are even a couple of Fyre Fiasco: A Flaming Flop documentar­ies about just how badly it went wrong. Also, at least someone must have thought that the Suez was just a newly restricted children’s author until the Ever Given container vessel failed so spectacula­rly in trying to pass through it.

However, the problem comes in with the little failures, those small rejections that don’t really take anything from you except self-esteem. As one comforting friend said, “This is not a crisis!! Just a momentary knock to the ego!” And this is true. It seems wrong, too self-absorbed, to wallow endlessly in something like a cruelly worded end to a series of academic rejections. In the immortal words of Kourtney Kardashian, “There’s people that are dying, Kim.”

Even so, failures at the accoutreme­ntsof-life level can be a crisis, and, contrary to popular belief, these can act on one as more than a momentary knock to the ego.

Why? What have we lost? Where is the proportion­ate gratitude for what we already have? I think the answer lies in the oft-repeated phrase “we live in hope”. I don’t think this is just something we say, I think it’s a descriptio­n: we, quite literally, live in hope. Hope that tomorrow I will get up with a sense of purpose and the discipline to carry that purpose out. Hope that the garbage truck will come on Friday. Hope that I didn’t embarrass myself last night after that last glass of wine.

Living in the sunny realm “Hope” has never been more important. We are (still) largely confined to our homes and have access to the world beyond, mostly through a digital telescope. Even though 2021 has turned out to be yet another Fyre Flop, we live in hope that, perhaps, sometime next year the Covid crisis will be over and the world will return to normalcy. So much of our joy and sense of self comes from the hope that if we decide to pursue a goal, we will triumph. So perhaps it’s OK just to sit with that sense of loss for a while.

After all, there is always hope that tomorrow, like a phoenix, I’ll make some lemonade.

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