Rejection is life, get used to it


By Adamu Tilde, PhD

One of the strangest human behaviours is the tendency to overblow our successes and subdue- or even hide- our failures. We make our successes look effortlessly-achieved. The unintended consequences of this strange but fascinating behaviour are dire, as are the false impressions it might create in the minds of our followers, friends, and most especially young folks.

We are gleefully, and justifiably so, in a rush to share our published articles, novels, grants, scholarships or the medals we have won, jobs we have secured, etc. Let me say that I see nothing is wrong in that on a proper view. However, given that our friends, followers or young folks won’t be privy to the back-and-forth we might have endured with editors and publishers, countless research proposals and applications submitted, and tens of drafts we might have written, we [unintentionally] might have created wrong impressions in the minds of many that view success as a one-off thing. The truth of the matter is that behind every success story there is a backlog of tens of failed attempts, disappointments and rejections.

In a widely circulated article, Prof. Johannes Haushofer shared his certificate of failure, this was in contrast to the norm where we share our well-crafted and beautifully-written resume. In the said article, Dr. Haushofer narrated how, as a researcher in a well-respected institute, Princeton University, (this is in addition to been trained from two highly regarded institutions, Harvard and MIT) he had to deal with rejections. He said, and I paraphrase, for every article he had published on Nature Journal he has had seven rejections. In the course of applying for a tenure position, despite having an impressive resume, he was rejected countless times. In some instances, he didn’t even receive acknowledgment of his applications.

While we all know about our failures, and maybe those of our close friends and family, it’s often difficult to imagine that the people we admire professionally have experienced something similar. The myth this article is trying to break is that success is a less-or-zero-effort feat; most of what we try fail, but these failures are often invisible while the successes are visible. This myth, sometimes, gives others the impression that most things work out for successful people. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, selection committees and reviewers have bad days, and sometimes luck isn’t just by your side.

A friend, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the States, had to reach out to over fifty professors before one agreed to supervise him and be subsequently accepted by the university. Mind you, this is a guy who graduated with a First Class degree as an undergraduate and was a beneficiary of the prestigious Commonwealth Masters Scholarship where he finished with Distinction. Another friend who recently got a Chinese government scholarship for his Ph.D. told me that this very year alone he had received over fifty rejections. Life is nasty and brutish, trust me.

I also had a friend, together with whom I served in Sokoto. He remained in Sokoto after our NYSC. He started working as a teacher before he joined community-based organizations engaging in humanitarian works, where he served in various capacities. He kept on doing the work while looking for opportunities. He acquired experience and relevant skills. He narrated to me the ordeal of his failure to clinch a better-paying job. I encouraged him to keep trying. As of early 2017, he was submitting ten applications per day. For some he would receive nothing, for others he would be invited for an interview where he would attend but still nothing forthcoming. He kept going. As I am writing this, I have lost track of his whereabouts. He was in Maiduguri, then Tanzania, then Monrovia and then… I don’t know.

What this demonstrates is that there is no such “one-big-hit” moment that we are all conditioned to believe. It doesn’t happen. Success is a product of tireless efforts, hard work, and sometimes luck. Behind every closed deal are countless submissions and rejections. Behind every launch of a successful product are tens of prototypes. Behind any well-written article are numbers of edits, redraft and proofread. [This article might be a case in point.] There is just no easy way to success. You have to keep trying, remain focused and stay committed.

We must embrace failure and be ready to be disappointed, and get rejected. The fact that we are rejected doesn’t mean that our idea or proposal isn’t good; it only means that our idea probably needs additional polishing or someone has a better idea than ours or it just didn’t meet the right person. What we need when such a thing happens is to double our effort and work harder. Nothing good comes easy, goes a popular saying. We have to keep our eyes focused and make every failure a learning curve, and keep pushing the boundaries until we succeed. Good luck!

This article was first published in 2019.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily