Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rejection: What To Do With It?

Today I experienced my fifth or sixth rejection from residencies I've been applying to since September. Naturally it's a bummer. Rejections are a part of life. Colleges reject us. Potential mates reject us. We're rejected from jobs, from grants, from proposals to clients. Where do we go with all this rejection?

Amoebic rust

One of the most successful scientists I ever met told me he had been rejected from about 90% of the grants he ever applied to. It was the 10% that counted. In my own experience, I find that I've grown a sort of carapace against rejection. Bummer? Yes. Game changer? No. On the flip side of the coin, "acceptances" aren't the sweet thing they once were.

Rust residue

Psychologically rejection is difficult. You may not have thought you were the best candidate but maybe you were in the top three. The top five? The top eight? Ouch.

Marine Fossils in the Mountains

So is there an antidote to this sore spot? We can take a clue from natural ecosystems. Evidence has shown that the more diverse the ecosystem the more likely it is to survive perturbations. This includes pathogens, which generally attack one species, as well as overwhelming physical crises like tsunamis, floods, droughts, etc. The more species there are in the ecosystem the more likelihood there is that some will survive. Can we translate this to say that the more applications we send out the more likely we are to get an affirmative?

Wall detail, San Cristobal

In part, yes. But quantity isn't the same thing and not half as good as diversity. What do I mean by diversity? Simply, a diversity of activities. Here's the story. At the same time as I got my negative email today (they did offer me a half-off scholarship to an undersubscribed summer session...I smell a scam), I noted that I had gotten more hits on my two blogs, this one and

"Botany Without Borders"...http://botanywithoutborders.blogspot.com/

than ever before. Having lots of engaged, interested readers is not the same as a trip to a studio space in Brazil or the Rockies. It's actually a lot cooler. But are our goals so monolithic? I think not. Keeping a lot of goals in front of us, enjoying the small successes, and figuring out how to connect the dots of our activities, our goals, and our "affirmatives" is the best vaccine against failure. Keep on keeping on!

Yoho Sunset


  1. Sam, I discovered your blogs today through your responses on the GOOD 30-day Art Challenge. As someone who has a new obsession with the intersection of art and science, I feel like I found a treasure-trove when I found your blogs. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Keep on keeping on!