Edit Desk: Learning to accept rejection

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Lucy Zhou

I wish someone had told my seventh-grade self that rejection is OK.

Obviously no one wants to be told “no,” and it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing goals, desires, dreams or anything else we hope to achieve. In the grand scheme of things, does the small percentage of rejection we experience really impact our lives? Does it really matter?

For me, as a learning and growing minority student trying to compete  and keep up with my fellow peers, it did matter. A lot.

In seventh grade, I experienced my first rejection, which was in the form of a failed friendship. At this time, I didn’t even know about how frustrating and dejecting rejections — on an academic or professional level — could be. Even now, I find the rejection of a relationship or friendship to be the most personal and difficult to overcome.

I remember the feeling was so new and jarring for me. I didn’t know how to react, as if there was a pre-established way to respond. After experiencing my first rejection, I knew I never wanted to feel that way again. I surrounded myself with friends who I knew would be there for me, and I subconsciously decided not to take many risks in constant fear of being rejected.

Throughout middle school and high school, I never tried out for a sports team, theater production or position in a club. I knew what I was good at, and I stuck with that. As a perfectionist, I naturally worked harder in every aspect of my life so I wouldn’t fail.

I studied hard for exams, spent hours writing and editing essays, practiced piano and violin religiously, took on two jobs and got involved in extracurricular activities.

When I fell short of my high expectations, I was disappointed and my self-esteem suffered. Though my parents just wanted me to try my best, I was persistent in being hard on myself. I was stuck in a ridiculous notion that if I made a mistake or didn’t do something well, I would fall behind and be considered inferior. I constantly felt like I had something to prove to my family, my friends, my school and myself. Failure or rejection was just not a possibility in my mind.

I realized during my junior year of high school that I was putting so much pressure on myself that I couldn’t even appreciate my strengths or recognize my own achievements. I reached a tipping point where I was stressed everyday, and I wasn’t happy with where I was and who I was becoming — a person so scared of rejection that obsessing and worrying over every circumstance were my only options.

Sometimes, you just get rejected. You can’t get everything in life, despite how hard you try and the great lengths you may go to.

When I auditioned for district orchestra ensembles, I failed to get the highest position of concert mistress. I failed some tests in high school and struggled with accepting that I can’t excel at everything, and that I will get grades I’m not satisfied with sometimes.

When my dad got laid off from his job, I experienced an indirect rejection, and I had to learn how to make my own money and help out the family financially. As I was applying to colleges, I got rejected by a few institutions. Even now, as I’m applying for internships for the summer, I’ve been rejected by several companies.

I recently watched a TED talk about dealing with rejection and learning how to accept it. Rather than letting rejection negatively affect me, I started seeking out what each circumstance taught me. Most of my rejections were a result of my own self-doubt and fear, not because of my abilities or lack thereof. I couldn’t control some things, but I could control how I reacted to them and how I improved and learned from them.

I made a promise to myself going into Lehigh that I would take a step back and be more realistic with my standards and goals.

The low point that I got to emotionally and psychologically in high school would not be repeated. I was determined to take more risks, push outside of my comfort zone and embrace rejection. It was reassuring for me knowing that the university could provide me with the space and people to help me find my passion and reach my potential without burdening me with pressure.

In the future, I am prepared for even more rejections throughout my career and personal life. Opportunities, growth and eventual success do not come without rejection. I no longer fear rejection. I welcome it.

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