Category Archives: Ravynn: Act 3

Week 2: On Rejection and How to Deal

Let me begin with a moment of transparency: I have been rejected more times than I care to count in the last three months. A professor I wanted to work with on Comps rejected my request. In a moment of intense vulnerability, I submitted two stories to literary magazines for the first time in my life and was rejected by both. I submitted an abstract to a conference at Princeton on the Black Impossible, thinking there could be no better place for my scholarly work on Black superheroes, only to be rejected weeks later. To rub salt in the wound, I also dealt with a personal rejection, which resulted in the dissolution of a long standing friendship.

And that is just in the last three months. If I go back further, the list of rejections might seem endless, peppered with deserted abstracts, denials from grad schools, and papers with biting feedback that, despite the grade, made you feel as if you had failed. I think of my rejections in grad school, my most spectacular failure was submitting three different blog posts to Black Perspectives, only to have all three promptly rejected within five minutes.

This list not an invitation to commiserate with me on my failures. It is not an invitation to pity me. It is an attempt to be transparent about a fact of graduate school: you will apply for things that you will sometimes not receive. You will be disappointed sometimes. And I am here to tell you that it is okay.

Fortunately, the list of triumphs outnumbers the failures for me. For every misstep, I found two more to guide me in the right direction. I have to believe that life is about balance, that even if I am having a season of rejection, it means that a season of “yes” is coming my way soon.

So, if rejection is inevitable at some junctures in your life, how best can we deal? One way is to be open about what you are going through. It may feel that the best way to handle it is to hide the rejection letter in a box under your bed and bottle up the feelings. Short term, that’s reasonable, but ultimately not sustainable. I’m not advising you run through the streets screaming that you’ve been rejected; however, it might be a good idea to let a few, trusted people in to share in your frustrations. Sharing your feelings will make you feel a little better and, if you have the kind of friends that I do, they are going to let you cry it out, but then hype you up and insist that you try again. Sometimes, just hearing someone say that they believe in you can go a long way. Seek out those who will support and encourage you, but also make a point to return the favor when they need the same from you.

If opening up to people is not your style, I still recommend you find someway to rid yourself of the negative feelings that come with rejection so they do not fester. Try having a long conversation with your pet, journaling it out, or writing a strongly worded letter and then tear it up.

Make sure you allow yourself some time to feel the sadness, to mope and to declare you will never write/apply/submit/create again. Watch a sad movie, eat a pint of ice cream, cry if you need to, but then when you are done and you are ready, tell yourself that you are going to be resilient and that you are going to try again. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this experience? Be vigilant in this process. For example, one of the literary magazines I submitted to offered me some positive and helpful feedback on my story. I took heart in the fact that there were aspects of the story that they liked, but that they also took the time to identity the features which weakened it. I can take that information and go back to the story and rework it. Even if I never submit it anywhere else, at least I know I will have made it a stronger story than it was before I first submitted it.

While I have placed a lot of emphasis on getting validation outside of yourself (leaning on friends and positive feedback), I implore you to also seek internal validation. Affirm yourself. For me, affirming myself was taking an evening off from everything, grabbing a journal and a pen, and writing a long letter to God and then a long list of things that I liked about myself. I wrote that I loved my hair, that I was an excellent writer, that I was smart, that was compassionate and a go-getter. At the end of the list, I reminded myself that even if these literary magazines or conference committees did not want some aspect of me, it did not make me any less of the amazing things that I listed. When I am feeling down, I come back to that list and even add to it, because it is such a beautiful thing to be able to lift yourself up.

Finally, the last thing that seems to help me is to have a mantra, a phrase, or a few, that you can come back to that consistently give you energy. For me, those phrases are: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing,” (Audre Lorde); “Someone, somewhere is waiting to read my words;” and “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). Put your mantras somewhere you can always see them– on your mirror, next to your bed, on your desk, or in my case, on my body. (I have “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing” tattooed on my wrists.) Allow yourself to be moved by those words.

There is no magic potion for recovering from rejection. Dealing with rejection is an act of courage and requires extreme vulnerability, courage because you choose to be resilient and vulnerability because you made the radical decision to share a sometimes very private part of yourself with those who have the ability to judge you. It takes time and a willingness to be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else in your position. Allow yourself to feel everything that comes with a rejection, but then be resilient enough to learn from it.

And most importantly: always, always try again.

Week 1, or Goal Setting for a New Semester

Well, it’s that time: the syllabi are posted and students have returned to campus. Soon, long summer days will turn into crisp mornings and brisk nights. That’s right– it’s the start of the semester. The start of a new semester for me is a moment of reflection– a moment to meditate on how I’ve done things in the past, which in turn informs how I set goals for myself in the future.

This semester in particular is very special to me. It’s my last semester of coursework as a Ph.D student, so things are set up a little differently than they have been for the last two years. In the past, I have taken three classes per semester, but in this last go around, I’ll only take two. The two classes I’m taking are a perfect fit for me: Introduction to the Digital Humanities and Critical Race Theory and Education. With the extra time, I will start to prepare for my Comprehensive Exams (Comps), which will tentatively take place in May 2019. And, if you’ve been following along, I will be completing my assistantship this year with the Lemon Project .

Given how much I have to accomplish this semester, I thought it would be a productive exercise to make my goals public, which might encourage me to hold myself more accountable as I go through this semester. So, here are my goals:

  1. Get through this last semester of coursework in one piece. I’ve done such a great job making my way through my classes for the last four semesters, and it’s amazing that I can celebrate yet another milestone along this process: my last first day of classes. The goal is not to be perfect, but to successfully complete these last two courses. To me, this means that I will do the readings, complete all the assignments, do the final papers/projects and most importantly I will do the best that I can in that moment, no matter what the final grade is.
  2. Finalize my Comps Committee. I had a snafu with someone who I assumed would be willing to be on my committee and therefore had to quickly scramble to find someone to replace him. Fortunately, I have found someone to replace him with, but I need to confirm that the replacement will be willing to work with and examine me.
  3. Set a date for my Comps Colloquium. Colloqs in my program are simply a formality; one must set a meeting with all the members of the committee and agree that the set of lists I come into the meeting with will be the final lists which I will be examined on. It is also the moment to set the date for my examination, which I hope will happen in mid to late May 2019.
  4. Start reading for Comps. This one will be hard, especially when I have readings for coursework to do, and an assistantship to prepare for each week. However, the more that I read now, the less stressed I will be come December when it’s really time to buckle down and start reading about a book or two a day.
  5. Prioritize my health. I mean all manners of my health. If I’m physically ill, I’m going to rest until I feel better and I won’t put off doctor appointments. I’m going to prioritize my mental health by making sure I’m eating properly, staying hydrated, taking breaks, and remembering to treat myself generally like a human and not a lean mean grad school machine. I’m also going to prioritize my fitness, and instead of laying in bed watching all of my favorite CW shows, I think I’ll take my iPad to the gym and walk on the treadmill while I watch instead.
  6. I am going to prioritize my joy. I think my own happiness comes second to literally anything grad school related. This year, I’m shifting my mindset. I’m going to do more of what makes me happy, whether it’s making art, knitting or crocheting, baking, writing, or spending time with friends and family, I plan on incorporating that into my daily life.
  7. I am going to write again. In full transparency, I started the semester off with a series of rejections. I finally worked up the courage to write stories that I was ready to share with the world, so I submitted them to literary magazines, and was rejected from both publications. Again, in full transparency, I’m going to be sad, I’m going to wallow, and I’m going to sulk for a while, but ultimately, I am going to write again. I am going to try to get published again. All I’ve ever wanted was to see my name in print and I deserve to have that feeling. Someone, somewhere, is waiting to read my words.
  8. I am going to spend more time with people. After the initial shock of how lonely grad school was, I got used to spending almost all of my time by myself. Aside from classes, I rarely see anyone. It’s partially grad school, partially my super introverted nature, and partially my social anxiety. Case in point– I went out with friends a few evenings ago and stayed out for a long time, much longer than usual for me, and my friends definitely mentioned it. The only reason it came up is because I usually isolate myself, but I was having such a good time that I wondered why I didn’t want that sort of interaction more often. Especially with Comps coming up, I think it’s more important than ever to make sure I’m seeking out healthy, mutually supportive friendships.

I think the most productive thing to do at the start of every semester is to sit down and make goals for yourself. Whether or not you follow through is up to you; at least you did make a concerted effort to better yourself, and were at one point committed to those goals. Now that I’ve shared my goals with you, I encourage you to write down your own list of goals and keep them somewhere visible so you can check in and note your progress every now and then.

Happy Grad Schooling!


P.S. Leave a comment down below with your top three goals for the semester!