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decade 2, electric boogaloo

4 min

I’m turning 30 this Saturday, which is cool. I get to act like my birthday is a big deal for the first time in nine years.

Last year, on the much less important 29th birthday, I set a goal: I wanted to get 30 rejections before my 30th birthday. This was inspired by a tweet that I can no longer remember the source of: someone out there had set an arbitrary rejection goal for themselves, which had the magical result of getting them to apply for a lot more opportunities. At the time, I was halfway through an internship that was helping me transition out of academia and into science writing, but I was really unsure of where it would take me. I was living in New York for an indefinite amount of time, trying to figure out if I would be able to get another internship or somehow line up a job that could get me back to Massachusetts. Getting myself to actively seek rejection was pretty much the only way to barrel through the anxiety of all that, especially when it became clear that I was going to have to embrace the freelance lifestyle to be able to pursue my own career goals while moving back to western Mass.

I have a list in my journal documenting my progress on this goal. My first rejection came in November, for a fellowship that my undergrad had just started for people seeking career experience out of academia. I’m not going to lie: I’m bitter about this one, partly because I really believed in my proposal, and partly because I’m worried that I was wrong to believe in my proposal. Going further down the list, there’s a paper rejection or two in there, before I finally got free. And when it comes to the internship/job search, there are a few non-responses, some straightforward “Thank you for applying, unfortunately…,” and a few interviews that ended with being told I lost out to the favorite. I also included some more minor opportunities that I was trying to make for myself, things you wouldn’t necessarily consider rejections, but that reflected the fact that I was trying to get out of my comfort zone.

The end result is 19 rejections, which is something I’m both proud of and disappointed in. The good part are the successes that have made it so I don’t have as much time or necessity to apply for more things. But I also harbor this fantasy of having tried harder to fail, to have pushed harder on ideas or opportunities that are so out of my league that I could have left my 20s filled with the unearned confidence of my cat, convinced he deserves a second dinner each night despite the history he has surely become accustomed to. Like maybe I should have gone all out and submitted a short story to The New Yorker just for the hell of it, despite the fact that I have no interest in writing a short story.

At the end of college, I applied to a crapton of grad schools and was rejected from most of them. It felt like shit, and it informed a lot of what felt shitty about my early 20s—the insecurity, the uncertainty, and the resulting impulse to avoid. The thing is that all those rejections, justified or unjustified as they might have been at the time, ended up having no real correlation to how I ended up doing in grad school. So I’m trying to just do that thing now where I assume that I’m fine, that my work is good. And more importantly, it’s the job of someone else to reject me, not my own. I’ve submitted a lot of applications motivated almost by resentment, fully expecting to be rejected but demanding that someone else put the work in of reading my application first.

So anyway, to clumsily close out, I like to whine about how shitty it was to be in my early 20s. But I do owe a lot to that period of my life. In the first half of that decade, I studied abroad, graduated college, moved across the country, started grad school, and got married. I also got a cat, so decade well spent.

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