Whatever it is we are waiting for let’s call it “the next step.” The next step to the high school of our dreams, the college we know is exactly right, the graduate school that will crown our academic life, the position we have prepared for years to enter…and on and on like a hamster on a wheel. Unfortunately, the next step, while not always, most often leads to heart break and the crushing of hope. Or does it? How do we handle disappointment? Maybe the more appropriate question is how do we handle our expectations? I work with many adolescents on the cusp of entering college and this time of year is stressful and poignant. A fortunate few are admitted “early” to their dream college, while so many wait for April for news. Recently one usually upbeat student came to class pale and so despondent it was sad to watch her. Urgently she held a friend’s hand through class, she was the personification of someone who had, as we say in our cliched but accurate way, been “kicked in the gut” by her rejection from college. All the air had disappeared from her enlivening buoyancy.
I am a writer, you cannot continue to write if you do not find a way to handle rejection. All writers know this and the history of literature is replete with stories of what writers do with rejection letters. Some turn them into lamp shades or wall paper. Others burn them, file them, flush them down the toilet. Some keep them in a folder, and send out yet another query letter. Keep the dream alive. Some frame the one acceptance letter that comes amongst all rejections. Somehow you have to separate the rejection letter from yourself. The same truth applies to the college process or any “next step”. Colleges build a class, they want musicians and mathematicians, athletes and astronomers, political science majors and painters. They have expectations for that class and maybe you do not quite fit the profile, but you will at another school or job, agency or publisher.
Try to separate the essential you from your “next step” application. Whatever happens to the application, you are still the remarkable, shining you that you were before the rejection.
Practice thinking in “a middle way” process; expectation not too high, disappointment not too low. Keep your balance and harmony.
Don’t indulge in a dichotomous success/failure paradigm. These are the frames you put on events. Events themselves are void, they simply are.
Allow yourself some mourning of your dream, but don’t get mired in the drama you create.
Be resilient. Create mindfulness techniques that allow you to bounce back; rationalize, talk to others about your feelings, go for a walk, meditate.
Breathe, breathe often and deeply. Then let the sap of life rise and surprise you as it is wont to do.
, Generation E
, high school
, Janet Levine
Stress is pervasive in our lives. Therefore it is not a question of how to avoid stress, but rather how to deal with stress. Stress does not lessen as you grow older, it simply takes different forms. Here are two examples. The high school juniors I teach are stressed because academically this is the year that will decide which college they will enter in 2011. So many students apply early action or early decision to college that junior year grades largely become the arbiter of their acceptance letters. They also need to bolster their school resume and try to maintain and juggle impossible schedules of sport, music, drama, publications and extra curricula clubs and activities with at least one having a community service component. Stress cuts into sleep, and down time is fast becoming an endangered species if it is not already one.
At the other end of the spectrum are the elderly. Some like my mother, who three years ago, in her mid-eighties, suffered a stroke, has been fortunate to receive excellent medical care and now lives in an assisted living facility where she is well looked after. Her stress is caused by her inability to communicate, as she would like, due to her stroke-induced brain damage, her frailty (she is in a wheel chair), the loss of control of every aspect of her life, as well as her sense of impending death. The vast majority of elderly people are not so fortunate and spend their last years in poverty, deprivation and with a frustrated acceptance of their reduced quality of life. This causes them and their loved ones enormous stress.
We live in stressful times. Recent college graduates struggle to find jobs, middle-aged workers who have been laid off struggle to find jobs and some way to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. We are stressed about war in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change, and how and when will the struggling world economy recover. And the list goes on.
Some strategies to deal with stress:
Physical – eat right, exercise, try to get enough sleep, build in recreation and down time. Maybe take a yoga class, and learn how to meditate. Breathe deeply.
Emotional – make the effort to stay connected with family and friends. If you live alone think about acquiring a pet. Prioritize a list of what satisfies you emotionally—music, movies, bowling, carpentry—and make the time to treat yourself and indulge in what gives you pleasure.
Psychological—don’t try to push through the commitments you have regardless of your health. Take a day off when you feel sick, learn that tomorrow is another day and you will have time to complete your tasks. Seek a balance between home life, work or school life, and your time for your private self, life.
Remind yourself that this is the one life you have to live. Be passionate. Your life is happening now, this is not a rehearsal.
, Generation E
, Janet Levine