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Just not good enough
April 3, 2007 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand why I'm always getting turned down for important things.

I am a college sophomore. Today I received a letter telling me that I was not among the winners of a summer fellowship in history I had applied for, with great hopes. The rejection letter said this: "The selection committee was greatly impressed by your enthusiasm for history and your obvious achievement and promise in the field," and then used the old "we had a lot of applications" line.

This scenario has repeated itself numerous times in my life, with other scholarships, college admissions, and so on (the last time was a few months ago, with a paper I submitted to a conference). Generally, several people whose opinion I trust will tell me that given my achievements, blah blah blah, they're confident that I will win the thing in question; in this case, a history professor I know and trust, and who wrote my recommendation letter, asserted confidently on a number of occasions that I was sure to get the fellowship. In the past, it was teachers, etc. Yet I've never managed to win anything I find relevant or interesting for my (hopefully) future academic career.

This makes me extremely depressed about my prospects, because there's obviously something important I'm lacking. When I ask people what these things might be, they more or less just pat me on the back and say everything's great. I am fully able to accept that the selection committee's words were soothing pablum, and that other people just want to preserve my self-esteem by not telling me what's wrong with me. My problem is, how do I figure out what they're not telling me?
posted by nasreddin to Human Relations (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone who has ambition gets this.

1. Keep throwing shit against the wall until some of it sticks
2. Get any feedback you can. Call up and find out WHY you didn't win, and do better next time.
3. Pursue your passions
4. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again

Honestly, dealing with rejection is one of the most fundamental skills to learn in becoming successful.

Person A: moderately talented, never gives up
Person B: extravagantly talented, gives up easily

Person A will have a great career. Person B will not. I have seen it over and over again.

Person C: extravagantly talented, never gives up

You do the math
posted by unSane at 8:20 PM on April 3, 2007 [10 favorites]

"Success is going from failure to failure with enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill (One of my favourite quotes and I have it taped up at my desk at the lab).

I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but to use an aging cliche - you're (very probably) not special. I'm guessing that during most of your life you've had people affirming your esteem of yourself.

In real life, you're competing against other people. Sometimes you'll win, many times you'll lose. You'll win more often if you have talent, or skill, or luck, or hell know the right people. Life's not fair and I think you'll be a healthier human being if you accept that and just keep trying and learning from failures and applying what you learn in future endeavors.

As for professors who say that you're a shoo-in, &c. In the great scheme of things, where on the academic totem pole are these people? Are they leaders in their respective fields? Do they have a sit-down chat with the pope a few times a year (I shot the shit with some regularity with a prof who did)?

I ended up (in my 4th and last year) asking some of my profs/advisors to be straight with me and tell me what areas I'm weak at (in general, in regards to specific applications, &c) and what I should emphasize and I was, fortunately, not surprised when they went ahead with true critical assessments.

As for depression, me and a bunch of fellow neurosci gradstudents were tossing around the idea why more people are getting diagnosed with various depressions and an interesting point came up was that people expects so much out of life because they've been told all their lives that they can do whatever they want that when they find that they can't, life doesn't meet expectations and there's feedback in the dopaminergic system leading to depression.

Set unreasonable goals (and some more reasonable ones), but reasonable expectations.
posted by porpoise at 8:34 PM on April 3, 2007 [10 favorites]

don't panic. there is nothing wrong with you. there really isn't! (and if you think this kind of rejection is hard, try getting poetry published!)

i can assure you that it is HIGHLY unlikely that there is something wrong with you that is so readily apparent that a selection committee who's never met you picked up on it, and yet that no one who caresw about you has said anything to you about it. trust me, if you were the only one in the room saying the earth is flat and the sun was blue, someone would say something.

that said, it's entirely possible that you are not a genius, but merely a very driven young person with clear goals. that's a wonderful thing to be at age 20. despair not. move on.

for what it's worth, there really are so few opportunities for academics and so many talented people out there. i'm not kidding. i once applied for a relatively unknown fellowship, thinking i was a shoe-in, and lost out...along with FOUR THOUSAND other applicants.

and these things, especially at the undergraduate level, are such crapshoots. undergrads don't get taken seriously in academia (really, they don't). your application was probably read halfheartedly by a hungover grad student who had a whole stack to get through that evening.

so. you're 20. your academic life is hardly over (i hadn't even settled on a major by my sophomore year). embrace the failure. go talk to your professor about your concerns about this fellowship and a career in history. see if he has any advice for you, careerwise or personal. he will probably have a hundred stories about talented people not getting published, or accepted to a conference, or getting tenure, himself included. it's part of the game, any game.

and, you know, there's always poetry.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:35 PM on April 3, 2007

unSane is right. The things we want tend to be hard to get. A scholarship is a ton of people competing for one or a few slots. No one, not even someone as knowledgeable as your professor, can predict who will win.

I have lost count of how many film festivals my movie has been rejected from. My writing has been passed on hundreds of times. Yet I still keep telling myself I am a good writer and filmmaker. I figure someone will agree with me eventually.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:36 PM on April 3, 2007

"fellowship" not "scholarship" sorry
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:37 PM on April 3, 2007

unSane is right. You have to inure yourself to rejection to a certain extent. Those who do not try, do not get rejected. Kudos to you for trying, and the more you try, the more often you'll be accepted as well as rejected. It happens to all of us who are attempting new things or applying ourselves towards something new.

Do not give up.
Do not give up.
posted by gen at 8:37 PM on April 3, 2007

You're still so young -- just that you're already competitive for these opportunities is a great sign.

A lot of life, and I'm guessing academics, is politics and sales -- connections, networking, demographics, unseen power battles. Selection committees love the combination of top notch work with a story/twist. Maybe work on that last part?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:39 PM on April 3, 2007

What are the achievements they say will get you these things?

The reason I ask is that you've obviously got *some* achievements in your past or they wouldn't be citing them--some successes, some things you've done well at and not been turned down for. It may be that you're not winning the top tier fellowships and such, but you must be winning something or you wouldn't even be under consideration. There may be a bit of confirmation bias in your thinking, and I'd hate for you to spend a lot of time psychoanalyzing all the things that are wrong with you when it turns out the answer is 'nothing, really'.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:44 PM on April 3, 2007

You could call me moderately successful in my chosen field. I have a file folder almost an inch thick full of rejection letters of one sort or another.

As far as I can tell the only thing - and I mean the only thing - that separates successful people from everybody else is that they absolutely refuse to give up, under any circumstances, and for any reason.

If you are serious about this history thing, then you simply have to make the conscious choice that no matter how many rejections you receive and how many setbacks you suffer you are simply not ever going to stop until you are the best historian you possibly know how to be. Once you have made that choice, all the other career-related choices you'll have to make become remarkably simple.

I know that this might sound trite, and everybody will tell you something along these lines, but the difference is actually doing it, which is hard. Take an example: If you are rejected from something - say grad school - and you have made the decision that you will be a historian, then your only possible course of action is clear: you must re-take the GRE and do better, you must publish a few papers, and you must make yourself a more attractive candidate, and then you must re-apply next year. If you are rejected again, you must re-apply again. And again and again until you are an attractive enough candidate to be admitted. You must not stop until you have achieved the next step toward becoming the best historian you can. And then you must immediately progress to taking the next step, and then never stop taking steps, ever.

Again, easy to say, hard to do, but the only thing I know that separates people who get something from people who don't are that they simply decide that they want it and ever don't stop until they have it. Ever.
posted by ChasFile at 8:51 PM on April 3, 2007 [9 favorites]

I think you're suffering more from overinflated expectations than from "lacking something important." It's very easy for people to pat you on the back and assure you that the road before you is clear. I'm sure your professors, teachers, etc, are trying to do right by you. They may be encouraging you just because they sense your shaky confidence, without knowing just what the odds you face are. Could there be conversations that go something like this?:

nasreddin: "I don't know. I just don't know if I have what it takes..."

professor: "Oh, come on, nasreddin! You'll do great! You're one of my most talented students! In fact, I can't imagine you not winning this thing! Just get me that paper to sign and you're on your way!"

If so, what you took as "I know for a fact that you are 100% in like Flynn" may have been meant as "Buck up, kiddo! Have a little faith!"

Whenever you compete with many talented people for anything, you will lose more often than you win. That's just odds. Selection committees have their own peculiar tastes and biases, so factor that wild card in too. Why would you think that you'd win everything you try for? Why would you even think that you have to? You will fail and fail and fail and fail and fail throughout your life. Everyone does.

Here's an experiment. Read a biography of someone you admire, and try applying the same confirmation bias that you apply to yourself. Every time the person you're reading about suffers a setback, let that confirm for you that they're lacking something crucial, are "just not good enough," and are doomed to failure. You may find by the end of the biography that those faliures actually turned out to be integral to that person's ultimate success. That's generally the case with anyone who succeeds at anything.
posted by ROTFL at 8:56 PM on April 3, 2007

As far as I can tell the only thing - and I mean the only thing - that separates successful people from everybody else is that they absolutely refuse to give up, under any circumstances, and for any reason.

That's the law. That's the whole of the law. I know it sounds untrue, but it isn't. It's true. It's sad, but it's true.

NB It does not imply that all people who do not give up will become successful.
posted by unSane at 9:03 PM on April 3, 2007

That rejection letter wording sounds so familiar! Maybe part of it is just that you are a sophomore. I remember applying for research and summer opportunities and not having much luck (especially if any pay/stipend was involved) until late junior year. This can be true even if you are an exceptional sophomore. Also, don't rule out things that seem irrelevant or initially uninteresting to you. You are most likely more than good enough for something out there. It's not always easy figuring out what that is.

As a history major taking an intro. level Spanish course in college, I had my Spanish prof approach me about signing up for a summer program in Germany that her husband (also a professor) was having no luck finding students for at his university. Looking back it was one of the more interesting summers of my life, and not something I applied for or would have even known to apply for.
posted by PY at 9:07 PM on April 3, 2007

It's becoming more and more clear that the upbringing of "kids these days" has made them have unrealistic expectations in life.

Seriously. Sports leagues where everyone gets a trophy, eliminating competitive games from gym class for fear of alienating someone, etc... all of these things have set your expectations to unrealistic levels. You've been sheltered from failure and rejection your whole life and now you don't know what to do when you encounter what real life is like.

Mind you: not getting a scholarship or fellowship is not "failure" on any sort of grand scale.

Take this opportunity while you're young to try and learn faster than your classmates:

For every 1 success you have, expect 10, 20, 50 or 100 non-successes.

When it comes ot scholarships, fellowships and jobs, the odds are always against you - there's way more applicants/candidates than there are positions to fill. The same goes for dating, friendship and everything else in life.

Get used to rejection and don't let it get you down. Learn to accept it as a normal part of life even for the most successful people out there. If you can read this being reiterated a bunch of times in this thread and actually heed the advice rather than having to experience it a whole bunch more yourself until you either harden up or quit, you'll be lightyears ahead of your peers.
posted by twiggy at 9:11 PM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

No, it's not obvious that you're lacking something. On the contrary, it's quite likely that there is nothing wrong with you at all. It's just that the stuff that's right with you is also right with many other people. In my professional life I spend a lot of time talking to people who apply for grants. Most of those who are rejected feel, as you seem to, that there is something inherently wrong with them or their application, and that if they only knew what it was, they could fix it; but nobody seems to understand that "we had many outstanding applications" is often the literal truth.

It's rarely a case of there being one outstanding applicant and a host of mediocre ones; more often there are a whole bunch which are worthy, and if you were able to, you'd give it to all of them. But you can't because there are only so many places/grants/scholarships available. When you get to the final cut, it's hard to make those judgements and it's not always fair, especially when we're talking about judging things like achievements and quality of work. You don't have a mathematical formula for making those decisions. There is always a degree of subjectivity, and there are too many variables to be able to give a definitive answer as to why one gets through and another doesn't. Just keep trying, and good luck.
posted by andraste at 9:17 PM on April 3, 2007

Oh, and if you want a specific tip: talking to myself using imperatives as I did in my comment above helps, I find.

"It would be nice if x, therefore maybe I could y"

"I need x, therefore I must y."

This helps keep you focused, on task, and resistant to pressure. "I'm sorry you feel that I should not have been accepted. Unfortunately what you do not seem to realize is that I must be accepted, and therefore this is not the end, nor will it be the end until I achieve my goals. Consequently we now progress to the next step in getting me accepted," be it a wait-list, be it re-applying, be it meeting with a Dean and finagling some sort of probationary acceptance, whatever it is.

Another tip is upon rejection immediately start working on overcoming it. It can be easy to get stuck in a self-pity session for days or even weeks, and you can't let that happen. So often upon getting a rejection back I will immediately open up whatever was rejected and start revising and improving it. Immediately as in literally that very minute, as in open letter, read letter, open laptop, start writing. This helps keep me constantly moving forward, and helps insure that as soon as someone asks for it I have a better version. In addition, working is a great way to distract myself from the disappointment of the rejection, and serves as an positive outlet for whatever frustration-induced energy I might have.
posted by ChasFile at 9:20 PM on April 3, 2007

I had a friend who papered their entire room with rejection slips. Their ENTIRE room.

I second the suggestion to immediately start working on something else. It also helps to in some way 'deal' with the rejection. That can be as simple as wiping your ass with the letter. Whateve works.
posted by unSane at 9:46 PM on April 3, 2007

The people who got those things signed up for, like, every one of them on the internet. You need to adopt their strategy to be like them.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:47 PM on April 3, 2007

It seems like there are two schools of thought going on here:

(1) Being rejected does not mean you aren't really, really excellent. So don't give up.

(2) Rejection happens. Get used to it. But don't give up.

There's a commonality there.

Whenever I get rejected or passed over -- and it happens a lot -- I start feeling like I didn't have something the other applicants didn't have, or that I didn't have all the right internships, or all the right experience, or know the right people, blah bling bloo. But: What unSane said (the first time).

Seriously: Don't give up.
posted by hifiparasol at 10:14 PM on April 3, 2007

Ok, in light of all the other people affirming you... and in just in case none of your mentors have mentioned this:

Scholarship/grant committees are comprised of people. People are stupid and lazy and prejudiced. (Humans, well, humans can be intelligent and industrious and noble &c&c).

The grand secret success strategy to getting grants is to write something that the reviewer(s) are interested in (but not too much, and definitely not something that they're studying).

How to find out what the grant reviewers are interested in - well, if you stick with academia, you'll have many a bitter discussion with your fellows. As to figuring out who the grant reviewers are, well, that involves knowing the right people and being a cool (for a value of cool to the people who may know) enough personages who might be in the position to know.

For example, CIHR post-doc/graduate grants were revealed yesterday; there was a *lot* of bitterness thrown around by the associates and post-docs. This year, in neuro at least, an historically disproportionate number of grants were given to people at Quebecois universities and Canadians studying at Ivy league schools. Politics has a lot to do with funding and - well - politics change.

The moral consequence of the story is, keep trying. When you do entrench yourself into the academic mosh pit, you'll be applying for grants every year/other year.

At your level, the chances of you getting a grant lies not so much in you, per se, but in your supervisor. At the undergrad and, to some extent, Master's level, if you have a supervisor with a really great track history of publishing and grooming students who end up publishing lots and in high impact journals, then your chances of landing funding are much increased... and that's not even counting that someone with that background will probably know people who are on review committees.

Yeah, it's not fair. Life ain't. When you do end up finding mentors/advisors/supervisors/sponsors keep in mind how high up they're in the field but temper that with how much and how well they'll actually be able to mentor you and help you develop as a historian.
posted by porpoise at 10:18 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Keep tring. Talent is not innate. Kids definitely get over praised as this article outlines.

However, the question you ask does not seem to be being directly answered. Finding out your strengths and weaknesses is important.

Write down what you think your strengths and weaknesses are. Look at your marks, compare them to averages and try and use them as a way of ranking how well you have been doing particular things.

Show someone who you work with or a professor and get them to look at your self-assessment.

Self-assessment is really hard, even when you are getting grades and sitting the same exams as everyone else.
posted by sien at 10:57 PM on April 3, 2007

I am not the OP, but I was just recently rejected from something that I had very, very high hopes for. Reading this thread helped me see things in a new perspective and pull myself out of self-pity -- thanks, everyone, for your replies, and thank you, nasreddin, for posting this question!
posted by tickingclock at 11:40 PM on April 3, 2007

If you get told yes everytime you ask for/apply to something, you are not asking/applying for enough things.

Keep sending in the paperwork, keep looking at new opportunities.
posted by bilabial at 2:51 AM on April 4, 2007

I was you, until very recently.

I got rejected for damn near everything I tried. Things I really wanted, things I thought I was a shoo-in for. Sometimes I'd come SO CLOSE...and lost at the last second. Rejection after rejection frustrated me, and like you, I thought I was never going to achieve my dreams.

One of my best friends would always tell me that perhaps now isn't the right time, but the right time will come. At the time I couldn't believe her. I did think I was useless, missing something, not good enough.

At one point, after facing another rejection, I threw it all down and looked for something that would really help me change my life. I was at a point in life where I really needed difference, and there were those goals left unfulfilled. I applied for a study abroad program, and worked my hardest to get in. I was praying so hard; I haven't wanted something so bad in quite a while.

I got in.

Finally! I got accepted for something! But there was more to do. I had to finagle the money somehow. My sponsorship efforts were getting nowhere. Eventually my parents chipped in (though I did win prize money from radio). There was all the paperwork to be done. A week before I left, my university screwed me over. All sorts of chaos threatening to not let this trip happen.

The trip did happen. It was the best time of my life.

Since then I've been accepted for some things and rejected for other things. The rejections do still bring me down, yeah, but I don't give up. I just try something else. Any opportunity I can take, I take. You never know.

In a way, my past failures had to happen for this big trip to take place - they all set off certain things that came together perfectly for the grand finale. Things happen for a reason. Take heart; your time will indeed come.
posted by divabat at 2:53 AM on April 4, 2007

The only way to succeed is to keep on failing. Anyone who has ever succeeded at anything will be able to give you a long list of their failures, if you ask.

Unpublished authors are the ones who submit once, pin all their hopes on it, never hear back and give up. Published ones... well, I'm sure you can guess.

It's also worth noting that this is also very true of dating. If you look at someone who you think is 'successful' with the opposite gender despite being stupid/ugly/annoying/whatever, you'll see that they're just asking a hell of a lot more people out than you are - they're not waiting until they're certain to be accepted.

If you can learn to take failure without giving up, you can get into almost anything. You just need a list of a few hundred of whatever it is, and surely one will take you.
posted by reklaw at 4:18 AM on April 4, 2007

Oh, another one: people who often win competitions (the send in your answer on a postcard kind) aren't lucky. They just enter every single one they come across.
posted by reklaw at 4:20 AM on April 4, 2007

The inspirational words here are great, and helpful to more than just the OP, but:

He didn't ask for cheerleading. He asked " do I figure out what they're not telling me?" This question plagues me enormously, and I can tell you I'm not 20. The OP really wants to learn -- not just so that he can avoid being a failure (he's not), but so that he can become better than he is and achieve more than he has.

But people generally are reluctant to give real feedback, either because they are afraid you'll be crushed or will argue.

I guess my only insight into this problem (which I struggle with, a great deal) is this: If you seem strong, people might not worry so much about telling you "the truth". If you seem like you're not wasting their time, but are genuinely interested in improving things in "the world" (whether that be a big or small world), they're more likely to take the time to give your efforts serious consideration. And cultivating relationships over time may help lead to the kind of easy communication that makes this kind of honesty possible.

But I've not yet succeeded myself. I dearly hope that someone will offer solid advice.
posted by amtho at 6:06 AM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

My entry in a fiction competition lost to one that was both a) a total piece of shit, prose-wise, and b) mostly stolen jokes. To this day I don't know if my entry deserved to win - and it probably didn't, to be honest- but I know that piece of shit plagiarized abortion didn't deserve first prize and a couple grand. I learned that life is not fair, that judges sometimes make pretty huge mistakes, and that if this were the only time in my life I lost to an untalented schmuck, I could consider myself very lucky.

No matter what you do in life, sometimes even smart and well-meaning and totally honest people will prefer something crappy over something good. Look at the popularity of Comic Sans. That's why success comes to those who keep slogging on and not those who try a couple times and give up.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:11 AM on April 4, 2007

This makes me extremely depressed about my prospects, because there's obviously something important I'm lacking.

Sure, you might be lacking something compared to other candidates. Maybe you have too much experience compared to other candidates. Maybe, just maybe, other candidates have a nicer smile and brought cookies to an interview. I remember when, as far as job applications and interviews go, I was told by my college advisor that out of every twenty resumes a college student sends out, you might hear back from five companies, and at least four of those would be rejection letters. That was mostly a scare tactic, but it's true: for every opportunity, there will be a sea of people turned away. Be in that sea of people so you have a chance.

If you submitted a paper to a conference, does that mean that you're a grad student or fairly high-level in your academic discipline? That would imply that you have been accepted in the past, and have in fact "won." Not everyone makes it into grad school.
posted by mikeh at 7:23 AM on April 4, 2007

One thing that stuck out to me about this post -- you say you are a college sophomore. A few people have touched on where your advisors and letter writers might be in the departmental power structure, but where are you in the power structure?

For this particular fellowship, you were competing against students that are juniors, or otherwise have been involved with the department longer? With the conference paper, were there people with better advisors, a little later in their undergraduate career, that you were competing against?

Also, have you given the impression at any time (because you seem highly motivated) that you would be around, working, and doing research for free? Then they certainly won't give you a fellowship for it.

Your profile says you are male, so maybe this advice isn't the most applicable to you: As a female undergraduate student, I immediately got labeled as a "hard worker" instead of as "smart" by the powerful people in my department. The problem with being a "hard worker" is that people assume you'll get somewhere, and don't need your help, whereas "smart" people get "discovered", which, as ego-flattering for the student as that might be, is great for a professor's image to recognize and foster "natural talent." I'm not saying don't work so hard, but work on looking like you aren't working hard. (I feel like this last bit is lousy advice, but it has worked fabulously for me.)
posted by lastyearsfad at 7:35 AM on April 4, 2007

My problem is, how do I figure out what they're not telling me?

You can't. And you will drive yourself crazy trying. This is just like writing- sending query letters, and then studying the rejections for some secret signal or sign. There aren't any. They just mean no, and knowing WHY it was a no won't help you.

No from Bob Thomas doesn't mean the same thing as no from Lon Rommas, and both Nos may be completely subjective. If you try to correct for everybody's taste, you'll suit no one's. A no is just a no. Keep trying until you find somebody who subjectively says yes.
posted by headspace at 7:39 AM on April 4, 2007

For this particular fellowship, you were competing against students that are juniors, or otherwise have been involved with the department longer? With the conference paper, were there people with better advisors, a little later in their undergraduate career, that you were competing against?
Argh, I forgot the followup sentence.

What I mean, is that you will have a chance to apply again. It can be that simple in some cases (when asking one of the graduate admissions committees why I was rejected, they basically told me that they wanted to see if I'd apply again. Jerks) but there's alot of "paying your dues" with academia. As a sophmore, maybe you haven't done that yet.

However, don't try to force your way in and risk getting labeled as someone who tries too hard. Trust me on that.
posted by lastyearsfad at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2007

If you get told yes everytime you ask for/apply to something, you are not asking/applying for enough things.

I seriously believe this, with a small change. If you get told yes everytime that you ask for/apply to something, you are not asking/applying for challenging things.

When I was an undergrad, a local bar would give you a free beer for every 5 rejection letters you brought in when you were a college senior and looking for your first job.

But that isn't why I answered this thread. Perhaps you just need to shift your frame a little in order to uncover the information that you are looking for? Instead of "I need to find out why I was rejected", try "I'd like some feedback from some more experienced people in my field about how I can keep improving and developing."

Look. People LOVE to talk about themselves. Seriously. So I used to give my undergraduate students an assignment every year. Find someone in the field you want to be in. Get really curious about how they ended up doing what they are doing. Respectfully ask to interview them. If you have to, say it is for a paper (if they turned it in, I gave them extra credit, but that really wasn't the point.) Offer to buy them coffee. Ask them, "How did you decide that you wanted to do X? What steps did you take to get where you are today? What would you have done differently? What is the most important piece of advice that you would offer to someone who wanted to do something similar?" Then, just be quiet and LISTEN. Let them talk. Take notes. Learn. Do NOT talk about yourself or your situation.

Most human beings will feel a sense of conversational reciprocity at some point. After they have talked and talked and you have still not talked about yourself, they will feel compelled to ask you about yourself and your ambitions. THEN you can talk. But briefly.

At the very least, you've learned something about how to get what you want. At the most, you've gained an ally in your pursuit of your goal who might help you to get your foot in the door for that scholarship/ internship/ job/ whatever. Every time one of my students has tried this, they are just freaked out by how well this works. It blows their minds. And, it's free! So, give it a shot. You've got nothing to lose but some time and a cup of coffee.
posted by jeanmari at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2007

One more thing. Keep the conversation/interview about THEM. DO NOT ASK THEM TO DO ANYTHING FOR YOU AT THIS FIRST MEETING. That is a critical point. It helps create that sense of reciprocity.
posted by jeanmari at 10:00 AM on April 4, 2007

You're a sophomore. I think that right there is the BIGGEST thing.

Do you know what kind of people DID get the fellowships? That will give you some idea of criteria. For my son, his GPA ranking in his department made a big difference.

I guess what I mean by that, is it isn't so much what you may be lacking, but what it is it they are looking for that the people who DID get accepted DID have.
posted by konolia at 12:54 PM on April 4, 2007

I also feel a need to ask the Original Poster to think about something else.

Was this the only summer thing you applied for this year?

If so, wow. That is a 100% rejection rate, and I can see why that would be a total bummer. For next summer, apply to no less than 10, make that 20 programs. Apply early. I'm not kidding, if you only get a fellowship at the least desirable location, you still got a fellowhip. With the possibility that you get accepted to more than one, you can come back to Metafilter in a year and ask us which you should choose! Apply for volunteer positions, fellowships outside of your major but that have some component that relates to your specific field of study. Just apply.

If you build a world where you always expect to succeed, your faliures will devastate you. Please don't let that happen, because trust me, there will be plenty of people who tell you, "No."
posted by bilabial at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2007

just wait till you're applying to grad schools.

in response to repeated rejections, i myself have been vacillating between righteous indignation and defeatist self pity, followed, in both cases, by heavy drinking.

i suggest you do something else.

like, try to maintain your self-worth and keep doing your best work.
posted by wreckingball at 4:39 PM on April 4, 2007

As far as I can tell the only thing - and I mean the only thing - that separates successful people from everybody else is that they absolutely refuse to give up, under any circumstances, and for any reason.


I'm by no means successful (actually currently "homeless" and 20k in debt)...

BUT.. one thing I am is stubborn. I wont give up. If something doesnt go my way. I try again...I try a different angle. I try a different idea.. I try brainstorming. I google till I'm blue in the face. I contact different people in the industry and then I try again. .. Keep trying.

Even if you have a really great perfect incredible idea... you will most likely have to work hard and force it down peoples throats to get them to REALLY listen and believe in you.

You're only 20. Life gets harder,..not easier. Keep trying.
posted by jmnugent at 5:45 PM on April 4, 2007

You're only 20. Life gets harder,..not easier. Keep trying.

Not for me -- 20 was sucktastically difficult. Being older, more confident, comfortable, established in my field, connected, less broke, etc., is such an easier place to be.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:11 PM on April 5, 2007

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