On Rejection

June 12, 2019

I really wanted this Fellowship.


There’s a different sort of notification beep I get when someone messages my main Smile Project email account. I was expecting a confirmation on June 1st. On May 27th, I knew seeing that name in my inbox wasn’t a good sign.


I knew I didn’t get it before I read the words. I read them anyway. I read them again and again and again before screenshotting the email and sending it to a couple close friends and my family.


Then I felt a moment of sting. The sinking feeling. The dread. In applying, I knew my proposal was a long shot. After seeing the Finalists, I realize even more than this was not the right Fellowship nor was it the right time.


Nevertheless, you can’t talk your heart out of what you want. And I really wanted this Fellowship.


I slid off the kitchen barstool and grabbed my jacket, bound for the dog that I walk some evenings.


As my train rattled downtown and later as my four-legged companion and I traipsed through Manhattan, I thought about why this rejection felt different.


I apply to jobs all the time. I apply to fellowships all the time. I apply to things that seem impossibly out of reach all the time. (It’s kind of my thing).


I’m used to those rejections. But this was different. As I said, I really wanted this Fellowship.


By the third time those words bounced through my mind, I took a second to think about why. Why did I really want the Fellowship?


I could talk for hours about the program and how intriguing I found it. It’s truly a remarkable opportunity from all that I have read.


Shrugging, I decided that it hurt simply because I wanted it for the right reasons. I wasn’t treating the Fellowship as a means to an end. It wasn’t a survival job situation. It wasn’t about a salary. I wanted this Fellowship because I thought it was gifting me the future that I wanted. I wanted this Fellowship because of the promise.


For the duration of your time as a Fellow, you are required to commit at least 20 hours a week to your social good project. Then it hit me.


What I really wanted was permission.


I wanted someone to tell me that it would be okay if I left one of my part-time paying jobs to pursue this. I wanted someone to tell me I didn’t have to work at increasingly impossible to manage speeds for multiple organizations. I wanted someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy for already averaging 15 hours a week unpaid with The Smile Project. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to dream this big.


Toward the end of my dog walk, it clicked. I was waiting for the go-ahead as if I wasn’t capable of providing that for myself.


Yes, I really wanted this Fellowship. But why? So somebody could give me permission to live my life as I wanted to? So some external group of people that I didn’t know could tell me it was okay?


What if I had that ability within me all the time? What if, Fellowship or not, I was devoting 20 hours a week to this project, not because some outside group told me I had to, but because I knew it was worth that much time and more. What if I believed in myself because I’m worth believing in? Full stop.


I already have everything I need. No permission slips required.


Love always,






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