1. You are not alone. I am not talking about panic-ridden websites or friendly banter around the department water cooler. I am talking about your family, about your mentors and letter writers, about your very best friends. Seek solace in these people because they care about you, believe in you, and want nothing but the best for you.
2. Speaking of those websites, they are a BAD idea. Stop checking the forums 24-7 seeking some sort of external validation or source of entertainment through the long “waiting month” that is February. The minute I stopped reading those boards, I started thinking logically and conservatively about my future. People will tell you this time and again. Trust me. Looking at those message and results boards is like opening your eyes inside an MRI machine… it makes you feel like the world is closing in, like you are helpless and vulnerable, like you are gasping for air. I am not being melodramatic. Stay off those boards.
3. You are not in control of this process anymore. The ball left your court when you pressed submit and sent your blood-sweat-and-tears off into the hands of admission committees. It isn’t fun to hear it but this is an incredibly difficult year to apply to graduate schools. Funding is down, admissions are down, and the demand for perfection is driving most of us to madness. Do not allow yourself to be driven bonkers by a system that you do not and cannot control.
4. Wait. Sometimes the bad news really does come first (though I hate to admit that the person who told me this was right). You don’t want to be the person who broke down for nothing. In third (Junior) year of university, I got 68% (note: in the US this was a C-) on a midterm. I called my parents in hysterics about how I was going to drop out of school and never be seen or heard from again. I was melodramatic and panicked and I blew everything way out of proportion. At the end of the term, I did not tell my parents that I had received an A in the course. I was embarrassed with myself. Frankly, I am rather ashamed to be telling this story. Wait. Do not cry wolf, do not pass go without collecting 200$, do not alow your fears and insecurities to get the better of you. Accept that things may turn out better than you could imagine and, if they do, you do not want to be too embarrassed to tell people that your dreams have come true.
5. Do not listen to people who resent your successes (no matter how big or small they may be). If you tell someone that you were accepted to _____ and they say anything other than “AMAZING” of “Wow, I am so excited for you” or “I knew all along that you would do it”… tune them out. If, within 2 weeks of said admission, they say anything disparaging about the school to which you were admitted… tune them out. If they care too much about their own success to celebrate yours… tune them out.
6. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Yes, it is a cliché. It just happens to be applicable here. If things don’t work out for you this round, give some serious thought to applying again. I did. It worked out (well… after lots and lots of “not working out” there have been a few big “worked out” moments).
7. On the first day of my first year at university, I attended a meeting with all of the other freshmen student athletes. We sat down in a big lecture theatre and were forced to sit through 3 hours of pedantic lectures on plagiarism and academic support services and alcohol abuse and so-on and so-forth. By the end, I was half-asleep and convinced that college was going to be filled with long boring meetings (admittedly true… student athletes do well in most professions because we know how to sit through long meetings) and empty of deeper meaning (completely untrue). My mind was changed when Coach K (Ed Kezirian) treated us to the story of the man and his mule. It was silly and seemingly tangential to the meeting but for whatever reason, it has stuck with me.
One day a farmer’s donkey fell into an abandoned well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway; so it just wasn’t worth it to him to try to retrieve the donkey.
He invited all his neighbours to come over and help him. They each grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. Realising what was happening, the donkey at first cried and wailed horribly. Then, a few shovelfuls later, he quieted down completely.
The farmer peered down into the well, and was astounded by what he saw. With every shovelful of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing some thing amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up on the new layer of dirt. As the farmer’s neighbours continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up.
Pretty soon, the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off, to the shock and astonishment of all the neighbours. Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to not let it bury you, but to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping stone.
We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!
And finally, the donkey gave the farmer who tried to bury him a good kicking. Which brings me to another moral for this story – When you try to cover your ass, it always comes back and gets you.
To end, this is one of my all-time favourite Jack Kerouac quotations. The perfect words for shaking it off and stepping up:
What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. – Kerouac, On the Road