Read This When You Feel Like Quitting – A Guide to Overcoming Failure & the Fear of It

Read This WhenYou Feel LikeQuitting.png

Photo by Andrew Robles via Unsplash

Hello, World.

Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to quit things. If I signed up for a sport, I played the whole season, even when I realized I would rather do math problems for 10 hours a day than play (see: softball my freshman year of high school). I think the first thing I was allowed to quit was the school band because my band teacher wouldn’t teach me music, and being in the band with no knowledge on how to read music is pretty much a waste of a time. This mentality, of not being allowed to quit, had its advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, I stick things out for a long time… sometimes too long. However, the thought of quitting takes a long time to enter my mind. I try and try and try, and it’s not until I feel like any semblance of hope has disappeared that I think, “Maybe I’m in the wrong _____? Maybe I should just let this go.” The word quit doesn’t even come up necessarily, sometimes it’s just that I feel I need to shift focus. However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that as we get older and things get harder with higher stakes, quitting seems worth it.

Why? Why does quitting seem like the best option? Why does it feel like there isn’t another way to make something work? Why does “stop while you’re ahead?” seem like a popular mantra? Well, I think people’s thoughts of quitting sometimes relate directly to our fear of failure. I think if when we’re doing okay at something (career, relationship, etc.), not spectacular but not on life-support either, we think, “maybe we should get out now so that we still have some control over what happens.” By this, I mean that quitting keeps the power in the quitter’s hands. Failing seems to place the power elsewhere, like whoever sees you fail has somehow had a hand in your failures and is laughing at you on your way down. It can be really frightening to take a leap of faith and go for what we want, fighting against anyone and anything that stands in our way. Sometimes we get so many “thanks, but no thanks,” or “you’re so qualified, but we still don’t have room for you here,” messages, that we think, “let’s just change it. Let’s get out while we’re relatively unscathed.”

But let’s think about this for a minute. Feeling like a failure is probably the sh*ttiest feeling we experience in most aspects of our lives. Failed relationship? Ugh. Failed career? Even worse. Failed before you even got to the career part? Double ugh. The thing is, most of our failures leave open the tiniest sliver where change and greatness creep into our lives. Every time I’ve “failed” in my life or something didn’t work out, it was a turning point that led to something much greater. Think about all the people who probably felt like epic failures at one point in their lifetimes, only to go on to become household names that so many people envy.

J.K. Rowling was living on welfare and suffering from depression when she penned Harry Potter. Numerous publishers rejected the manuscript before a publisher’s daughter at Bloomsbury recognized the potential contained in its pages. In 2004, Rowling became the first billionaire author in the world. Imagine if she’d stopped after writing a few lines on a napkin whilst on the train? What if she stopped after the first few pages? The first few rejection letters? But she didn’t. She kept pushing forward. She didn’t quit.

Marilyn Monroe, one of Hollywood’s most notorious sex symbols, was told to find secretarial work because she would never succeed as a model. She easily could have quit right then, looking for secretarial work in the classifieds but she didn’t.

As mentioned in National Treasure, it took Thomas Edison over 10,000 tries to create a lightbulb. If he stopped at try 9,999, who knows when we would have had electric light.

Stephen King threw a manuscript in the garbage, feeling so discouraged by the rejections of publishers. His wife dug the manuscript out of the trash and urged him to keep moving forward.

The point of telling you the above stories is not to imply that if we keep going we will reach astronomical success. Rather, the people above were regular people who probably never dreamed of living the lives they lived or having the legacies they have, but the fact that they stared failure down and kept pushing led them to where they are.

When we feel like quitting, it’s important to remind ourselves that the stories we hear of “overnight successes” probably required a lot of work on the person’s end that we will never hear about. Sometimes things take a long time to get going, but once they start picking up, suddenly there is an overnight success aspect. There’s a reason social media only highlights our best moments. Even before social media, the only times we heard about things was when something really good or really bad was happening. We report our extremes. So, we fear that intense failure because we know people will know we failed, and failure or success seem to be our only options. However, there is a spectrum there, dots along the line that mark important movements toward or away from a particular end. Those moments, the ones in which we keep chugging along, are the moments that decide our fate and which we have complete control over. How we react to a setback or a step forward is critical.

Sometimes quitting is completely called for – like if you’re living a life you hate or returning day after day to a job that leaves you feeling empty or trying to work out a relationship that you know died a long time ago. If you know that the only thing that’ll make you successful or happy is quitting, quitting may be the right choice. However, other people telling you you aren’t enough or won’t be successful is NOT a reason to quit. If anything, it’s a reason to prove them wrong and push even harder.

Because I’m in law school, the story of perseverance that comes to mind regularly is that of Elle Woods. For my fellow law students or lawyers reading this, I imagine we can all share a collective eye roll. Sure, there are wildly unrealistic aspects of Elle’s story, but I still find it commendable that a woman who was told, repeatedly and by many people might I add, that she wasn’t smart or good enough, went and showed everyone they were wrong. She easily could have said “okay,” and let Warner go to Harvard and never follow up on that. She probably could have said “bye, Harvard,” after wearing a playboy bunny costume to a party with a bunch snobby students in brown polyester who thought she was a bimbo purely because she was feminine and bubbly. However, she didn’t quit. If you take anything away from the somewhat silly movie, it’s that Elle doesn’t quit – she proves you wrong. So, the next time someone tells you that you aren’t good enough or can’t do something, let it sting for a moment, then get out there and make some magic (I mean, J.K. Rowling literally invented her own magic to deal with all the stuff in her life that was dragging her down).

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

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Guide to Graduate School Admissions

Stylish Academic's Guide to Graduate School Admissions

photo by Andrew Neel via Unsplash

Hello, World.

I’m so excited because today’s post is a guest post featuring one my best friends, Holly! You’ve probably seen her alluded to or featured in many of my college posts. She’s the Paris Gellar to my Rory Gilmore. While my blog focuses pretty heavily on college and law school, I realized that I want to be able to reach all stylish academics, but I don’t have enough personal knowledge to speak about graduate school admissions or experiences (graduate: excluding law or medical school). Then one afternoon, I realized I should call in the best person I know to speak of such things: my best friend! So, today on the blog, Holly will be sharing her experiences with graduate school admissions. The post is riddled with tips and tricks for making the process as painless as possible. I hope you enjoy. I will put the disclaimer out there that Holly is pursuing a M.A. in History at the present time, so her knowledge is tailored to that field. However, I do think her tips are useful for any graduate program, but obviously be sure to do your own research about your individual program.


I knew as early as high school that I was destined for graduate school. Though the desire to punish yourself with 2-7 more years of advanced education is not a decision everyone makes so early in their life, nothing can prepare you for the roller coaster that is graduate school. I studied history for my Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in undergrad, so naturally, I decided that my future was destined for the halls of academia. A life of teaching as a professor and writing historical books and articles appealed to me. While all my best friends in undergrad chose the route of law school, I was the only one who pursued a conventional graduate program. The major hurdle on the road to graduate school was actually applying and surviving, the harrowing process of graduate admissions. Unlike law school, whose admissions process is similar to undergraduate admission, the graduate admissions process (at least in the field of history) is vastly different. Since I have successfully survived the process (though not without a lot of rejections, tears, and comfort food), I am offering my two cents and encouraging support for anyone who intends to take the same crazy adventure on which I embarked.

First thing first, as soon as you discover you want to pursue advanced degrees, find out what kind of standardized test you have to take and start studying for it. For most conventional grad programs the test is the GRE. I know, it’s the words that no one wants to hear. But, the sooner you can take the exam and get it out of the way, it will give you more time to focus on the actual admissions process. Since I knew early on that I was pursuing graduate-level degrees, I took a GRE prep course at the end of the spring semester my junior year of college and then took the actual exam over the summer before senior year started. All I can say is that no matter how you slice it, standardized tests suck. Luckily, in most cases, the university won’t give two figs what you actually scored. Still, if you want to take it again go ahead and take it again. That’s the benefit of taking it early!

The second part of the process starts with countless hours googling potential advisors and programs of interest. All grad programs are unique, but in the case of history, whether you are pursuing an M.A. or a Ph.D., keep this in mind: you’re shopping for an advisor, not school name recognition. Name recognition of particular schools (e.g. Harvard, UC Berkeley, University of Chicago, etc.) is not nearly as important as the professor who is going to serve as your advisor for the next 2-5 years of school. That is not to say that I am discouraging anyone from attending those schools (because seriously if you get in then go). I am just saying that big name schools are not the only way to go. Many brilliant and well-respected historians teach at universities that aren’t Ivy League or typical big name institutions. Your academic advisor in graduate school (at least in history) is everything. They are not only responsible for guiding you through your program, but they are responsible for whether your pass your comprehensive exams and/or your thesis or dissertation. Their name will be linked to yours if you are applying for a job as a professor later so you want to choose an advisor who is respectful to you, respected in the field, and has a good track record of landing graduates jobs after graduation. How do you find an advisor? Bust out your FBI hat and start googling. This requires knowing what you want to study. So at least have a general idea of what want to pursue in grad school. If you know that much, you can start looking up different schools and finding people who study what you like to study. Another way to go about this is reading different academic journal articles or books about what you like and finding where the authors are currently teaching. Or, you could go the old fashioned way and ask your undergrad professors if they have colleagues or know of any professors who study what you like. The most important thing to do is to email the professor you’re interested in and introduce yourself and express your interests. Also, make it clear that you are contemplating applying to their program and inquire whether they will be accepting graduate students for the next year. A professor who responds (because to be honest not all professors will answer your email) is likely to be brutally honest about whether they are accepting grad students or are interested in your research. So if a response expresses interest in you and your area of study, then do not hesitate in building a professional email relationship with that person. Professors hold a lot of power in graduate admissions so any morsel of communication and interest is helpful to the process.

Once you can narrow where you want to apply and who you want to work with, then you can start the real application process. Basic requirements for a history program will include three letters of recommendation (which should be from professors you have worked closely with or who know you and can attest to your work), a writing sample (of anywhere between 15-30 pages), a letter of intent (which should state: “I want to study –” and “I would like to work with Professor(s) —”), and transcripts from every college level institution you attended (and I do mean every. single. school.) Some schools may also require a CV or resume and a statement on language proficiency levels (fun fact: you’ll need foreign languages for history). Keep track of all the requirements, deadlines, and the like in a spreadsheet of some kind. Kiss your wallet goodbye and wave as the fees for applications, GRE scores, and transcripts make your bank account a barren desert and then begin the awful process of waiting.

This is the stage of the process that I think is akin to setting yourself on fire in misery while everyone else is happily going about their own business. If I could do this whole process over again, I’d omit one very large, and very bad, decision. Since I knew I was going to be a professor I decided to apply to all Ph.D. programs straight out of undergrad. It can be done (in fact I know many who have done it) but I do not advise it. Trust me, there is nothing wrong with doing an M.A. before the Ph.D., even if you already know you want the Ph.D.. While my friends were receiving what felt like numerous acceptances to different law schools, I waited, and waited, and waited, only to receive crushing rejection letters. Sometimes it wasn’t just one rejection in a day, but multiple. There is no way to describe how utterly discouraged, defeated, and depressed I felt about the rejections. I tried to put on a happy face and be happy for my friends, but truth be told every time they talked about where they were thinking of going I wanted to curl into a ball and cry. I had phenomenal grades, amazing recommendations, teaching experience, and numerous other things on my CV that I considered assets to my admission into graduate school. But, at every turn, I was being told, ‘sorry kid but we don’t want you.’ My friends didn’t know what to say, my family didn’t know what to say, and I faced the very real reality that I would need a plan B.

I am writing this now in an effort to make it clear that despite how scarring the experience was, it’s not the end of the world if you receive rejections. It certainly made me feel like I was a failure at the time, but getting punched in the face by grad school admissions doesn’t make anyone a failure. I wish I’d kept this phrase in my mind throughout the whole process: IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY AND TRY AGAIN. Part of life is learning how to fail and face rejection. I don’t think I ever truly knew what it felt like to fail or be rejected before that moment in time. But, this whole process was unique. It was a unique lesson and at the end of the day, I am grateful for the rollercoaster that it was. Learn to fail and learn not to take it personally. Graduate admissions exemplify how not personal many failures and rejections are. Graduate admissions contain many anomalies. How many students does the program already have? How many people were competing for the same advisor? Did the department have enough funding for x amount of students? How many graduate students are your potential advisor already supervising? Is the professor going on sabbatical? All of these questions and numerous others are just a sampling of the variables that are taken into account when accepting graduate students. They symbolize not only how my rejections and failure were in no way personal, but about bureaucracy, logistics, and matters out of my control. If you’re put into the position of utter defeat by something like grad admissions, or by something else, then have your moment to grieve, pick yourself up, and keep going forward.

It turned out for me that I didn’t need a plan B. While I was at work one day my father texted me a picture of a letter from Boston College. I told him to open the letter, thinking that if it were a rejection he would at least be able to soften the blow for me. It was the last school that I heard anything from. He replied with a picture of the letter. It read, “Your application for admission has been reviewed by a faculty committee in the Department of History. While you were not recommended for admission to the Department’s doctoral program, the committee would like to extend an offer of admission to the Department’s Master of Arts program.” I was absolutely stunned. It turns out that in the application process there was a small and discreet little box that stated something like ‘would you like to be considered for the department’s M.A. program if you’re not accepted for the Ph.D.?’ For whatever reason, I don’t remember why, I was compelled to check that little box and thought nothing of it after the application was submitted. Turns out that little box really saved my bacon. It did bring up new challenges about finances and moving across the country, but my dream was to be an academic and at that point I would take any steps necessary to get there.

I have since completed my first year in the M.A. program. I will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall and though I am still suffering from immense anxiety about going through the whole application process again, I know this time around that I won’t let rejection put my dreams on hold. One way or another, as long as you keep moving forward, it will all work out in the end.


Guest Post- Holly
Thank you, Holly! If you have questions about graduate school or Boston College, please email us at bottledcreativityblog@gmail.com or comment below. I will forward all graduate-related questions to Holly.

Truly,
Callie leigh