Yesterday my applications to the Lenfest Institute were all rejected, with nice enough form letters from Burt Herman. I was disappointed because my experience at PMN didn’t go as well as I had hoped, and I thought that the grants might let me give back after I’d moved onto Alley.
I’m reflecting on rejection today. I don’t like it. Not sure there’s anyone who does. But rejection motivates me, it spurns me on. Sometimes I wish it didn’t. It’s a tick to perceive rejection as personal, as a challenge, and it can lead to unhealthy behavior.
When I quit the Collegian as a freshman, leaving to start Onward State, the news advisor at the time told me that he had over-estimated my potential. I think my departure disappointed him and he took it personally. Regardless how right history proved me, this man didn’t believe me at the time, and he felt criticized personally by the truth that I was preaching (blog early/blog often my friends).
Onward State ended up being a mostly open and mostly flat organization, but it could have been more open and more flat. Rejection really bothers me. Onward State grew to the point that it needed to institute applications, but for a long time I let everyone join. I liked the friction it introduced to meetings. I always thought that we could smooth things over because we we’re all people who cared a lot about Penn State and making it better.
Since then, I’ve realized that rejection is inevitable. Simply part of running a business or an organization. The reasons for rejection are the important thing to consider, but I’ve found myself needing to consciously work against becoming bitter or resentful at the decision-makers when doing so. I feel the contradiction: an antiestablishmentarian seeking acceptance by the establishment.
The most worrisome component for me is knowing that my persona gets judged just as harshly as the ideas. If I was nicer, could I have convinced the Collegian to start blogging in 2007? If I was more charming, could I have been successful in arguing for a different Thunderdome strategy? If I was always positive, could I have convinced Fusion to drop their awful FB like box?
I dunno. Maybe? I emote a mixture of near-zealot enthusiasm for the future combined with a slightly depressive melancholy about how badly we’ve been doing so far. I think it confuses folks. I wish I wasn’t bitter. I love working on local, on community, on making individual lives better. The grant cash would have been nice, but it’s not make or break. I’m happily employed and not even sure how I would have handled winning. Counter-intuitively the rejection made me a little more confident that I should keep zagging. I know I rub people the wrong way sometime, maybe even you, but I genuinely Give A Shit about what you think, what you want to do, and how we can work together. Don’t worry friends, I will not reject you.