Dear Cardinal Directions,
The end of the quarter came with a lot of rejections, but the one that hurt the most was not being matched for a staff position next year.
I’ve wanted to be an RA since freshman year when I had a really good experience with my staff. Transitioning to Stanford was difficult, but I could always count on my next-door RA to have his door open and be willing to talk to me about everything I was going through. I dreamed about becoming that same role model for someone else.
I just don’t get what went wrong. I applied widely, I’m involved with student groups and I thought my interviews went well. I really thought I’d get an offer, even if it wasn’t going to be my top pick.
I know that I shouldn’t depend on outside validation to feel good about myself but this rejection is just really screwing with my self-worth. I’m starting to think that maybe there’s just something wrong with me. How do I know that’s not true? How do I cope?
— Tired of Trying
Gosh, is this letter a Big Mood. It made me flashback to my junior year where a combination of floundering academics, not jiving well with the community in my house and then not even being considered for second-round interviews for most of the staffing positions I applied for sent me straight to a CAPS appointment where I cried AND sweated through my jeans.
It was not pretty.
My therapist, bless his heart, was calm in the face of my meltdown, and it wasn’t until I had sat there and voiced all of the anxiety that I was experiencing that I had a really strange and transformative experience. Just “speaking my truth,” in the words of Oprah, helped me realize how much I was struggling.
It was like I was talking about someone else’s pain. “Jeez,” I thought in the third person, “this person is really having a Time.”
You are also going through a Time. I think a lot of people on campus have been there and would understand if you wanted to talk to someone at CAPS or even a friend. That said, just because it’s a semi-common experience doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Staffing rejections hurt most of all in my experience, because it’s unclear what the expectations even are. When I got rejected from a tech internship, I could at least point at something to blame, like my complete lack of experience in a coding language.
But the process of staff selection is intensely personal. From the personal statement onward, your character is being put to the test. Questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you tell us about a time you failed?” force you to reflect honestly on your personal experiences. One-on-one interviews can feel like meeting your girlfriend’s parents; group interviews like jockeying for attention at a beauty pageant. You parade yourself around and hope that someone sees your worth.
And when that rejection email slides into your inbox, it feels like you put your genuine self out there and it wasn’t wanted.
Row staffing hurts even more, because maybe it was your own friends, people who you trusted and loved, who are telling you through discreet automated emails: we don’t want you.
Give yourself space to mourn. Lean into your pain: cry a bit, scream into a pillow, sign up for a kickboxing class. You’re hurting and that is okay.
You’ve suffered a loss; it’s not like anyone died, but those perfect little potential futures you imagined — decorating your house, organizing your dorm Scav Hunt, spending hours bonding with residents on your IKEA futon — those futures don’t exist anymore.
Not to say that those futures won’t ever occur. But the exact scenarios you laid out so carefully in your head are gone.
So what next, you’re asking. How do I move on? How do I forgive myself?
First, realize that there were probably a lot of other factors at play in why things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to. I didn’t learn this until much later than I should have, but it’s totally acceptable to ask about your performance in your response to rejection letters.
Say you didn’t get an RA position at Cedro. It is very ok to email the RFs after the fact and 1) thank them for their time and consideration and 2) ask if they have any feedback on your performance. This can be really great if you are a sophomore and plan to re-apply to staff next year. Most employers in general are impressed by the depth of your interest and the fact that you’re willing to take constructive criticism. At worst, they say no, they don’t want to share feedback and you’re no worse off than you were before. But in the best-case scenario, they give you feedback and you know what to do next time.
Second, put a piece of paper on your wall, maybe above your desk or on your door, a place where you’d see it all the time. Write in big, block letters: YOU ARE ENOUGH.
You are probably the kind of person who is intensely self-critical, who internalizes failure and criticism as personal flaws. You might battle with insecurity a little too often. I’m the same way.
As cliche as it sounds, you’ve got to seek validation from yourself. Our society has a preoccupation with being the best; everyone has to have something that they are, if not exceptional, then at least good at. (This is why freshmen tend to struggle so much when they get to Stanford — their defining accomplishment has been accomplished by someone else, better and faster.)
Let’s take the -est’s off. You don’t have to be the best RA to be a kind and decent person. You don’t have to be the bubbliest, loudest, funniest, smartest. You can be bubbly and loud and funny and smart sometimes, and sometimes not, because we contain multitudes.
Root into your deepest self. Nurture the pain that came with this rejection and think about why it hurts so much. Realize that not having a title doesn’t preclude you from being the same supportive, empathetic person that your RA was for you. Clutch at those principles you admire–compassion, loyalty, stability, care. Find them inside yourself.
They never left. That’s enough.
Send Cardinal Directions your questions at thegrind ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.