The other day, my cousin brought over a big box of gourmet cookies, one of which was a spicy Mexican chocolate cookie. I didn’t know there was spice in it beforehand, but it was the first one I reached for. Imagine my surprise when the sugary sweetness flung off its disguise and I found myself with zesty chocolate in my mouth.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of spicy things, but I can handle them, and I won’t reject them. So as interesting and strange as the flavor combination might sound, they complemented each other quite nicely (though that is supposed to be the point). Savory and sweet.
This got me thinking about some things. You might be aware that it is at this time of year that senior high school students all over the world are getting their fates shoved into their faces. It is college acceptance/rejection season. In a time period of just barely over a month, a tiny, tiny fraction of our lives, we are faced with a decision that will potentially shape our entire future. And so, just like our tastebuds are sensitive to new flavors, some people are sensitive towards college decisions. Thankfully, I am not. But I would be.
Let me explain.
(Warning: long post)
I had a dream school. I still have it. And I was definitely more than lucky to be accepted.
But not everyone was able to enjoy the same feelings. Part of it is because of this:
The notion of college decisions is an exceptionally frightening one. For people like me, the idea of college is haunting, like a specter that can not and has never gone away. We work as hard as we can, spending all our waking hours studying to ace tests and to perfect essays. We take on everything we can, whether it is taking an AP class, volunteering, or participating in clubs and sports. We sacrifice both our mental and physical health, because all those volunteer hours might make our college applications look slightly better. Sometimes our hobbies, the things we truly love, all die away, simply because we have neither the time nor energy to devote to them. But we are still average. We are nothing in a sea of exceptional students who are AP scholars, captains of 3 sport teams, presidents of 4 clubs, leaders of the student body, and competitors in national math and physics competitions–all at the same time. We feel insignificant. If only–if only we had taken up fencing in the 2nd grade, if only we had continued piano lessons, if only we had interviewed for that one leadership role–if only there was some way to make us stand out. No matter how many times people remind us of our talents, our abilities, we feel inadequate. And no matter how many times people tell us that we need to relax, we can’t. How can we risk our futures to relax?
To say that there is pressure to succeed in high school is an understatement. We feel compelled to compare ourselves to everyone else; otherwise, what are we worth? Where will we go? It’s almost as if high school is a game, and any wrong step will land you in the bottom of the pile. But high school is truly only what you make of it. You can choose to ignore all those ideas–and I firmly believe it is better to do so. The truth is, there is plenty of room to breathe; there is no one monitoring your every movement. Everything our teachers said was true–all that matters is that you enjoy yourself, because no one will care what your SAT score was in 5 years or even 2 years. Have fun. Get sleep. Do what you’re passionate about, and don’t take up things you’ll end up regretting; just try your best. The goal is to treasure your every step and make the most of your four years, not be scared of every little mishap that happens or could happen along the way. I wasn’t able to grasp that until this year, and everything is almost over.
Being rejected–some will call it a bitter experience. To throw away everything you’ve done, everything you’ve worked for, to discount yourself because a few admissions officers said you weren’t good enough–it’s not a happy feeling. We shouldn’t feel that way, but it’s difficult not to. Because I was scared of this, to have to throw everything away, I told myself for 3 years that I wouldn’t have a dream school. I’d be satisfied with what I got, because it was what I deserved. That way, being rejected wouldn’t hurt as badly. Things wouldn’t have to amount to nothing. But in the end, it didn’t work; my dream school was my dream school, and the feeling of finally being accepted was incredible. If things had happened any other way, there is no doubt that I would be lost. But the question is, why should I, or any other student, have to feel lost?
We crave acceptance. Acceptance is sweet. It is delicious, creamy, and melts in your mouth. But any healthy diet cannot consist entirely of sweet things. I also felt the spicy pang of disappointment as I was rejected by five schools in just over two days, even after I was accepted to my top choice college. In reality, it shouldn’t have mattered. But I still felt the judgment. I watched as my peers posted their acceptances on their social media sites, and I fell back into the pattern of wondering what I could have done differently. Why not me? Was it something I did? Or worse, was it something I didn’t do? It wasn’t a matter of being rejected by a second-choice school or even a ninth-choice school; I took it as a discount of my abilities. Was it my pride? Probably. But it felt like a shove down the stairs.
The other day, however, I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon a post that read something along the lines of, “Those aren’t rejection letters; they’re pivot letters. They’re guiding you to where you can make the most impact on the world.” And something finally clicked. Over the past few months, I kept reading posts from older students about how rejection wasn’t the end, and how much more there is to us than we think. I had somehow stuffed those all into the back of my mind; I thought I understood, but I didn’t really. Then I started getting the rejection letters. At first, I was disappointed, confused, almost bitter–everything I had done, what was it for? Why did I put myself through that for this? But thinking more deeply, it didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it should. Seeing those rejection letters as pivot letters–it only reinforced an idea that my mom had always tried to instill in me–that everything happens for a reason. I was being encouraged, cheered on by fate to attend the school one school I really wanted to attend. Even if that wasn’t the case, I was still going somewhere; there would be options for me, and the world would let me know about them. I did what I could. There shouldn’t be any reason for me to be disappointed in myself.
I realize at this point that I may have digressed a bit, but the point of all this is that spice is good. Spice shouldn’t taste bad; it shouldn’t ruin anything. In fact, it adds a depth of flavor to any delicious dish; it is another ingredient for success. We need to learn to take sweets and spices together and address them as a delicacy, to make the most out of what we get.
I can say that the sensitivity of college decisions hardly have any weight on me now. Of course, my story will be a little different from others, and everyone will think differently. But I can tell the entire world all the schools I was rejected from, and I won’t need to hesitate. I won’t feel any worse about myself, and my regrets are no longer regrets. Why? Because life is spicy and sweet–it is a meal worth savoring, and I won’t be wasting a bite.