How Getting Rejected From Grad School Helped Me Figure Out My Life

At age three, people began asking you “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You probably responded by saying a veterinarian, a dolphin trainer, or pop star. Fifteen years flew by and you likely found yourself on a college campus, wearing a sweatshirt with the university’s mascot on it, while writing a paper about how cruelly Americans treat animals. People were now asking you “What do you want to do after you graduate?” At age three, you began being taught that worth comes from what you do. Fifteen years later, you believe your future worth is dependent upon what you do after graduating.

I found out right before I had to go to work. I took a deep breath as I put on my shoes. I kept it together as I left my house and started my walk to work. I put in my headphones and One Republic’s Marching On was the first song on my shuffle. I lost it. I was not sad or angry; I was stressed. Going to graduate school was supposed to be my ticket. That was how life was going to start. That was how I was going to finally be what I wanted to be when I grew up. And with an email, it was over.

One year, I laugh about this image. A white, female, college senior, wearing rain boots, and a mustard yellow raincoat, crying while walking through campus in the rain. I walked into work and knew my co-workers could tell I had been crying. Fortunately, no one asked why. I sat down at the desk and pulled out my laptop. I read the email one more time to make sure I had read it correctly. I told myself “Get your shit together, Lex” and Googled “jobs in higher education.” I was marching on.

If I could go back to the day I found out I was not accepted into graduate school, I would not change a thing. I believe our emotions happen for a reason and we need to let them happen.

For the last few months of my senior year and into my first summer as a postgraduate, I applied to 42 jobs. For each job application, I specifically tailored my resume and cover letter. I still have the email address, mailing address, and phone number for each of my references memorized. Each job application also had it’s own supplementary questions. What are your strengths that would benefit you in the position? What are your weaknesses? Why do you want to work at Eastern Washington University? (I didn’t, but a job is a job). I applied to jobs in Washington, California, Oregon, Florida, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, Maryland, and even New Zealand. The process was humbling to say the least. In August, I finally received a job offer (one I was actually pretty excited about), accepted it, and moved down to Los Angeles. In a three-week period I went from being an unemployed, in-a-relationship, postgraduate, Oregon resident, to an employed, single, postgraduate California resident.

I am using my double monitors, that sit on my desk at work to type this. My Cisco IP Phone 7945 (I am not sure what this number means and sincerely hope it is not a secret code) rings intermittently. I answer the phone and say “School of Law Admissions, this is Alexis.” Ten months ago, I would have never expected to be here. Today, it still feels unreal. It has been the best four months of my life. It has been the most challenging four months of my life. I worry about my mom’s health. I am trying to make new friends. I miss my college friends. I miss Oregon football games. I want to travel the world, but working 40 hours a week makes this difficult. I miss happy hour at Max’s Tavern. I miss the Oregon rain. I get tired of spending so much time in my car. Despite these things, I know this is where I am supposed to be. And that is the coolest feeling in the world.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is not the question we should be asking three-year-olds. “What do you want to do after you graduate?” is not the question we should be asking college students. The question we should be asking is What type of person do you want to be?” A job is a thing that will change or maybe even end.

But the type of person you are is something you carry forever.

It is the most beautiful thing about you. It is what your family and friends like about you. It is what someone has, or will, fall in love with.

Sometimes, it helps to solve a problem backwards. To all the recent post-graduates or soon-to-be’s, my biggest piece of advice to you is to ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What type of person do I want to be?
  2. What can you do to help you get there?

It might take you 42 applications, 42 resumes, and 42 cover letters to actually get there, but when you do, you will know you are where you are supposed to be. And that will be the coolest feeling in the world.

Featured image via Jonathan Daniels on Unsplash


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