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The Thin Envelope

On taking rejection personally (but not permanently)

Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon, where she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2017.

I got rejected from my dream school on December 15, 2006. The date is forever seared into my brain the way that Sriracha stain is permanently seared into my white pillow case.

The thing is, it wasn’t actually my dream school, but I convinced myself it was because it was very small (which meant extra attention from professors!), looked Hogwartsesque (although I had never finished reading the Harry Potter books!), and everyone wrote essays in lieu of taking tests (no more math classes — ever). I went on one of those overnight stays where I slept in a student’s dorm room, and we watched Moulin Rouge! with her friends, even though I was desperate to go to a real live college party where there were artsy boys drinking beers I’d never heard of. The next day, we sat on the lawn under a gigantic metal art structure as I waited for my parents to come pick me up.

“You’d fit in so well here,” one of the girls complimented me, smoking a cigarette. “Because you’re so different.” (She was right: I was a preppy suburban girl who lived at the mall.) She looked at her phone, showing an incoming text from a friend. “It’s Tom.” But not just any Tom. It was Tom Hathaway, brother to Princess of Genovia Anne Hathaway. It was a sign. I had to go here. I couldn’t possibly be happy or successful anywhere else. I applied Early Decision.

To my surprise, I didn’t get in.

Instead, I got a skinny envelope in the mail, which everyone knows means you got rejected. My mom did not know this and excitedly opened my letter before I got home from school.

“Don’t you know it’s illegal to open someone else’s mail?” I screamed. (SORRY MOM.) And then I drove an hour in the rain to my dad’s house with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” drowning out my sobs. It was very dramatic.

Why didn’t they want me? What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t my best good enough? They say not to take these things personally, but it definitely felt personal. But more than that, it felt like The End of the World. I graduated from high school almost exactly 10 years ago, and it still astounds me when I look back and remember so vividly how much it mattered to me at the time, yet how little it matters now.

In the midst of what is currently College Acceptance Season (or Rejection Season, depending on how you look at it), people love to say that it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Why else would we try so hard and care so much? Why else would so many of today’s high school students burn out, driving themselves to mental exhaustion? It does matter — just not in the way you think it does.

When I was living in New York, there were these rows of fliers plastered onto this one building that read, “No one cares if you don’t go to the party.” I took a photo of it because I loved it so much. The same applies to college. One day, you will be in your twenties and you’ll be at a cool party — the kind of party you imagined when you were a teen — hanging out with cool people who do cool things. And you know what? No one is going to ask you what school you went to. They might ask you about the podcast you’re listening to, or if you watched the Chappelle specials on Netflix, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who straight-up asks where you went to college.

Because where you end up going to college isn’t even going to remotely be the most interesting thing about you. Your semester abroad in Japan, that comically terrible internship you did one summer, your weirdly specific knowledge about gluten-free recipes or beauty contouring — that will be far more interesting. I laugh to myself when a dude puts his college on his online-dating profile. I don’t care where you went to school! I only care that you didn’t vote for Trump, have a car, and are employed, you know?

Recently I’ve faced some real slap-in-the-face rejections, and each time it happens, I still find myself taking it personally. That part hasn’t changed, although I’d like to tell you it has. But the difference now is that I’m able to let the feeling pass much more easily. Like a sunburn, it still stings, but it never lasts as long as I think it will — and that’s largely up to me. I know I’m angry now, but I also know that I won’t feel this way forever.

So when you inevitably get rejected, allow yourself to feel what you need to feel, whether that means sobbing in your car or eating cheesy carbohydrates. It does matter, and your feelings are valid. But just remember that it doesn’t matter as much as you believe it does, and 10 years from now, when you’re at a party, drinking beer with artsy boys, they won’t care about which college you got rejected from — and neither will you.