• Dr. Thom

Accepting being Denied: how resilience really works


Several years ago, I visited the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta.  It’s stunning.  So big you can’t see it all from any one vantage point, and can only be absorbed in small portions.  Out of all of it though, my favorite exhibit is the tide water tank.  The exhibit is a curved tank which extends above your head and is filled with coral and wonderfully happy and colorful fish.  The wonder of it all though was that every few minutes you could watch the waves roll in.  Everything roils asunder.  The swift tumult of the bubbly teal water jostles every fish and anemone, and just as quickly moves on.  Serenity and calm regains until the next wave comes.


I was never denied to any college I ever applied to, but I have had someone else’s decision dramatically change the direction of my life with the loss of a job (when I as in grad school).  I remember being livid, inconsolable in fact, and feeling as though the whole plan I had worked out in my head was tumbling away from me.  What I know now, and what John Lennon so famously sings, is that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  I eventually found a calling for which I would not have otherwise thought to listen, had things worked out with Plan A.  I know now that I am more comfortable with adversity, the same way I guess the fish gets used to the waves.


The college search, this weird process of presenting yourself to others and having them generate a judgment is not a finite process.  It comes in waves.  It comes when you apply for a summer internship, or to be a resident assistant in your res hall, or to law school, and ultimately to a job (check that, to lots of jobs).  The judgment of that group pertains to you, but it does not become you.  In your most honest moments, if you can say that you have done right by you, and have presented yourself in the most genuine way possible, and a college does not admit you, I believe that is the college’s fault.  You didn't create the wave.  You are only responsible for how you respond to its current.

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