When I first started writing this post, I expected by the time I would publish it I would have heard back from all of the graduate school programs to which I applied. I even decided to publish it towards the end of the day instead at the beginning of the day in hope that I would hear back from the one remaining program. But that’s not the way it went. I’m still waiting for a response from the last program.
Over the past few weeks I have experienced the dwindling of possible futures. Although graduate school is only one part of my life, it will significantly shape the outcome of my life. It will shape what I learn, how I think, what I know, what I do, and many other things.
As I’ve received rejection letters from programs to which I’ve applied, I have been disheartened. Yet, present is a tinge of hope. Because with each denied admission I am closer to life that will be. The reality I will live, that will be mine. Last fall as I applied I began to imagine my life. There were many possible outcomes, each with their perks and annoyances. And while neither of the two remaining possibilities are my top choice, I know more now than I did two months ago when I felt like my future was on hold. So that’s something to celebrate: I know more than I did before. I have been given back the ability to plan.
So that’s something to celebrate: I know more than I did before. I have been given back the ability to plan.
For instance, I know where I will be living. I can research apartments, what it takes to become a resident in a new state, and some job options. It is exciting to have some answers, to have some clarity about the future beyond the next few months. Nevertheless, there is much I don’t know. There is much I know that will not be.
I think of what could have been, how my life would be different if I had gotten into that program or the other one. I imagine the experiences I would have and what my schedule what look like. I imagine the people I would meet and be in contact with. I imagine. I hypothesize. I pine. And after the daydreams fade, I recognize them as fictions, lives I will never live. Though those lives might seem more glamorous, more fulfilling, simply more, they are a mirage. They are not real. After further thought I realize that by entertaining these recurring illusions I am turning away from the life I do have. From the life I don’t have to imagine. From the life I can live.
In order to truly say yes to something, we need to say no to other things. We can’t fully enter into a room with one foot out the door. So whatever the admissions office email says, I need to fully enter into what is real. Even if it is disappointing, even if it is stressful, it will be better than any contrived future, because it will be real. This strikes me as something beautiful.
Even if it is disappointing, even if it is stressful, it will be better than any contrived future, because it will be real.
When things don’t go my way I like to convince myself that I wanted it to happen the way it happened. I want to turn quickly to the trust that this is ultimately for my good, that it’s all part of a larger plan that makes sense from a perspective I can’t currently reach. In a way I sympathize with this outlook because I can certainly think of many things that I view more favorably now than I did in the past.
Still, I think immediately going down the “it’s all part of a larger plan” route is a lie we tell ourselves in order to avoid feeling disappointment. The sentiment may be true much later in the future, but it’s not always as comforting as one might think. It’s actually pretty dismissive. It says, “Your disappointment is useless. Get over it. You’ll see, it will all be fine.”
Though it may not be as familiar, many times it’s better to just embrace the disappointment. It certainly is easier to adjust our expectations and believe that it will work out for us at a later date. But through denying our disappointment we are deceiving ourselves. We’re avoiding the truth: things didn’t work out and that is frustrating. And it is okay.
By holding on so tightly to who we think we are and who we believe we must be, we can miss many opportunities and the fact that we are complex people made of many things.
During those times when the course of a life is altered, it is tempting to give ourselves away to a career, a relationship, a certain lifestyle. We latch our identity onto things that might not work out, and if that comes to pass, we go down with the dream.
I am finding that a certain degree of detachment is helpful. Not to the point of apathy, but to strengthen our resilience. I think we should care about what happens to ourselves and to those around us. But I also think we should view ourselves as flexible people with the capacity to change and evolve. By holding on so tightly to who we think we are and who we believe we must be, we can miss many opportunities and the fact that we are complex people made of many things.