Disappointment, rejection – and bouncing back


I bumped into a colleague last week. I hadn’t seem him for a while, so I pretty casually asked if he had heard back from the Foundation we had both applied to – an institution giving pretty generous scholarships to spend time in Venice to do research. I expected him to say no (as I hadn’t either), so that we could then share our anxieties and go our separate ways.
He didn’t. He said he had been interviewed and was feeling optimistic.

I hadn’t been interviewed.
So I wasn’t even among the shortlisted candidates.

I let that sink in.
I felt awful. Disappointed in myself. And of course my mind started racing immediately. I had spent a week on that application, had bothered three different people to get letters of recommendation. For nothing.

I then started considering there there was quite a good deal of silver lining:

  • I still have my standard monthly scholarship, and while it’s not enough to cover rent in London and Venice, it is definitely generous enough to find a room in Venice and probably also travel back to London for meetings with my supervisory team once a month; plus, Tim will let me sleep in his room when I come to London = no extra expenses for accommodation;
  • I have some amazing friends and family members who immediately comforted me and made me feel better;
  • This is still the best job in the world;
  • I am only in my first year, which might have been a factor in the Foundation’s decision not to give me money (they don’t necessarily trust first-years to complete their degrees);
  • There are more scholarships out there!

All considered though, the most important thing was yet another one. I was immediately brought back to last winter/spring, when I applied and applied and applied and all that was coming back from admission offices was sorry-we-love-your-project-but-have-no-one-who-could-supervise-it‘s. It was tough and I struggled not to feel judged as an individual, to spare myself my own harsh and heavy criticism, to remember I was still a decent human being, if not a promising young scholar. The hardest bit was probably being refused a scholarship from Birkbeck, after I had already gotten in and had flown to London twice to be interviewed. I cried and stomped and whined.
But you know what? Four months after that day, when I had long stopped moping around and I was starting to look at non-PhD options, I got the news that I was to be awarded a full fellowship from my current research centre.

And everything fell into place.

I got the perfect fit. A supervisor who is everything I could wish for, knowledgeable, the best in his field, helpful, patient, funny, well connected. I was even allowed to have the supervisor I would originally have had at BBK as my second one at UAL. Now, six months in, I am ecstatic.

Now believe me when I say I am not one to think that everything happens for a reason. I hate that line, to be honest. Things do not necessarily happen for a reason; good things happen to bad people, and vice versa. Some people were probably refused the place that I got, although they deserved it. ButI do believe that if you keep your head up through adversities, keep fighting and keep trying, and try to see the bright side of everything, you will feel like everything has happened for a reason, and you’ll feel like you’ve ended up with the best solution ever, for you.

It goes back to one thing basically – failure is only failure when you allow it to be.

So that day when I got the bad news, I allowed myself to feel sad. To feel frustrated. To feel jealous, angry, to regret, to wish I could, to think I should have, to prepare myself for the official announcement. But I also went online to look for more travel grants, and emailed people to inquire about them, and made a list of the ones I want to apply to, and got in touch with friends who live(d) in Venice to ask them about the cost of living and make budget plans.

{I also ate my feelings, or as they call it, a pint of ice cream. Eh. It happens. Big deal}

I now have a couple more applications ready. And I am very excited to go to Venice, even without that very prestigious scholarship: there are other challenges – and successes – ahead!


6 thoughts on “Disappointment, rejection – and bouncing back

  1. Awesome post! Even though I’m not in the whole funding game (yet), I recognize quite a bit in this post. I especially love your line “failure is only failure when you want it to be”. That’s some wisdom right there!

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