You may have come across articles with titles like, “5 Things To Do When You’re Rejected From Your Dream School.” The authors of those articles urge you to pick yourself back up! Consider your options! Appeal! Write a letter! Think differently of the schools you did get admitted to!
All great suggestions, but are you really ready to hear any of this?
If you find this article within a week’s time of getting a “We regret to inform you…” in your inbox, I urge you to do just one thing: feel the pain.
Wired for rejection
Rejection hurts. And not just emotionally. In an article for TED, psychologist Guy Winch writes of a study on social rejection conducted at the University of Michigan.
The researchers found the same areas that are activated when the participants experience physical pain, were activated when those participants recalled a painful break up. In this particular study, researchers focused on romantic rejection, but the results can be applied to other types of social rejection (such as working for years only to be rejected from your dream school!)
Evolutionary psychologists, Winch writes, believe that this neural response originated from when humans were hunter-gatherers living in tribes. Rejection from one’s tribe was equivalent to a death sentence: you couldn’t survive alone. So we developed this process as a response: those who felt the pain of rejection more strongly were more likely to alter their behavior and pass on their genes.
We are wired to hurt.
Floor is for sad times
We all hurt in different ways. When I am hurting, I like to lie down on the floor. Yes, the floor. Sometimes this is accompanied with a dramatic swoon, but most often I just kind of slowly descend onto the ground. There is something especially comforting about the floor. Chairs and couches are for happy, relaxed times. The floor is for sad times.
Sometimes, I’ll wear a blanket like a wizard’s cloak and then swirl and land straight into the fetal position. If the floor just so happens to be located in the kitchen when sadness hits, I’m in luck.
The kitchen is an optimal location because, if needed, I can rotate onto my stomach and seal slide to the fridge for snacks. When I am on the floor, I let myself be sad. On the floor, crying is okay. Staring blankly into the void because you are an emotionless drone is also okay.
I kind of lied when I criticized so-called “strategies,” — I’m going to give you one. It’s two steps, but the good news is that the second step is optional.
Step 1. Find your “feeling the feels” position.
Remain in this position for as long is necessary.
Step 2. Write a hot letter.
In an opinion piece written for the New York Times, Maria Konnikova makes a case for the angry unsent letter. Konnikova writes that whenever he would get angry, Lincoln would write a “hot letter” (which, of course, he never sent).
Another proponent of the angry, but unsent letter was Mark Twain, who described writing such letters as practice in “unallowable frankness and freedom.”
So write an angry (or a sad and discouraged) letter. Write it directly to the school. In this letter, write everything that you wish you could say to your dream college. Tell the college why it was wrong to reject you and why you deserve to be there. Tell the college about the sleepless nights spent studying and the mornings spent fantasizing about the campus.
In an article written for Mic, author Rajiv Narayan recommends that you also write a second letter: an apology from your dream college.
Address the letter to you and include in it all of the things you wish you could hear from your dream college.
Narayan suggests that you re-read this second letter nightly before bed. You could also roll it into a ball and eat it. Or rip it into tiny rectangle pieces which you fold into airplanes and then descend down upon the recycling bin as if a fleet of air-bombers — whatever.
In about a week’s time, we will follow up with some practical tips for responding to a college rejection— but for now, do some lying down, some snacking, and some angry letter-writing.