Elizabeth Schriner/MiC. Buy this photo.

i.

I am torn.

I talked to my father on the phone the other day. “When are you going to start working at the zoo?” he asked.  

“Dad, what are you talking about?”

“Well, you said you’re working with Python and Pandas!”

I laughed. After a moment, the smile disappeared.

I wish I were working in a zoo. That would mean I had summer plans instead of still being in the process of applying to jobs, internships and anything remotely relevant to my future career goals.

I am torn between who I am and who I am expected to be. How well does a resume or cover letter speak to who I am and what I can be? It seems as though I am sacrificing some skills or experiences in favor of others to make space on a page, yet my potential as an employee relies on all of me. My friends, for example, say I am compassionate, dependable and creative. It is a struggle attempting to fluidly incorporate these traits into a one-page resume dedicated to plenty of other things such as work experience. The list of rejections continues to grow, which means I haven’t succeeded yet. The optimistic side of me says that I did receive one internship offer, but it was eventually canceled due to the pandemic, bringing me back to the drawing board.

I liken my resume to a Jenga set. I am continuously stacking skills, jobs and extracurriculars onto one page in anticipation of one of two things: 1) winning or 2) losing. Just as one meticulously chooses which Jenga block to remove, I am in a constant process of choosing what parts of me to include or delete, hoping to come out on top despite my tower progressively destabilizing. This metaphor to a tabletop game darts around the real issue: I am torn between the person I see in the mirror and the person I create on paper. It’s a fine line, and I’m a pretty bad Jenga player.

ii.

I am trying.

Advice to “not take rejection personally” is rooted in logic, but such encouragements do little to lighten the blow to my self-esteem. Sometimes, I wonder what it means to be a number, one of countless pages in a book to be tossed out before being fully read and appreciated. Dozens of emails start with “you are an outstanding student” and “thank you for your competitive application” only to be followed by a predictable “but” or “unfortunately.” It is these sentiments I find the hardest, as there is no reference as to where I went wrong, and therefore, no advice on what I can do to improve. It ends up feeling as though my best wasn’t good enough and never will be. In reading rejection emails, I do not want platitudes of encouragement derailing my attention from the important announcements, though I do appreciate people’s consideration and inevitably accept the decision.

Still, rejection feels personal. It doesn’t matter that a program accepts 15 out of 380 applicants or that it’s less than a 5% acceptance rate, or that an email for another program notes over 1000 applicants. Pouring oneself into application materials is no easy feat. It is sacrificing what little social time there is in lieu of long hours writing, rewriting and proofreading cover letters, personal statements and essay questions. It is being tired, not just from Zoom fatigue or taking 18 credits, but from the lack of a break, as a winter break spent writing internship applications and developing “employable skills” — like learning the basics of coding — left much to be desired. These efforts haven’t paid off during this round of applications, but I hope they will in the next. If anything, I am trying.

iii.

I am not special.

Everyone is special to someone, but special is subjective. I am no more than a small speck within a vast universe. It is disheartening, but it is also liberating. If everyone succeeded their first try, they wouldn’t be where they are now. I am not unique for being rejected. While the voice in my head tells me I am not good enough, the optimistic side of me whispers ways I can use rejection to motivate growth and improvement.

I see success sometimes when I close my eyes. I see the girl I could be if only I reached the next level, if I could land the perfect job or win some prestigious award. I imagine what it might be like to be this girl, to be the type of person on paper who makes someone say “wow.” But like ink on a page, I am not sure whether such success is simply a work of fiction I have written for myself — a byproduct of an imagination shrouded in fantasies of heroines and character arcs.

I am not special — but the only person I need to compare myself to is me.

iv.

I am wistful.

I will cry. I will pick myself up. Rinse and repeat until the first step no longer exists.

It can be tempting to seek comfort in the wallows of my perceived shortcomings. Some days, I would rather be soothed by the quietness of complacency than accept my anxieties over failure or the future. It is a shame there is so much pressure placed on our shoulders; however, there is greater shame in letting thoughts of self-doubt suffocate the greatness within.

Rejection is painful, but I’ve learned that dwelling on it only amplifies feelings of bitterness. Succumbing to hesitancy and self-deprecation is a recipe for disaster. It makes it harder to submit the next article draft, apply for the next job or commit to that next step in bettering oneself as a person. It is okay to be sad, or feel self-pity for a moment. The key word, however, is for a moment. I allow myself to experience the healing mechanisms of ice cream tubs and long showers nearly hot enough to melt the stress away. But I also must not give myself excuses to give up on everything under the guise of unhappiness regarding past troubles. Self-pity is comfortable and hard to break, but it also results in giving up responsibility and control. I may feel regretful longing for something I can’t change, but I mustn’t let it stop me from taking steps towards what I can change.

v.

I am hopeful.

Rejection did not begin with college, and it will not disappear after I graduate. It will follow more applications and interviews for future internships, jobs and graduate school programs. Prose submissions will be another area of routine rejections, if I choose to continue to write. Yet I am hopeful. Someday my troubles over internships and summer jobs will be in the past, and I will be in the future. The future will also be full of struggles, but one day I will look back and see how I persevered through those challenges, too.

I think of the future often. I characterize it in my thoughts and in my dreams until it feels like an old friend. Then, in times of stress, it transforms into a jealous lover, tightening its grasp each time I try to escape. It is not until I breathe and let go of my fears of the unknown that I may open my eyes and see the future for what she is: a stranger. I do not know her yet, but I await her acquaintance. What I do know is that whatever persona the future takes, I believe in it. I believe in me. I believe I will be enough, and I believe that I grow closer to such feelings of self-love and perseverance every day.

MiC Columnist Elizabeth Schriner can be contacted at eschrine@umich.edu