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Thin Envelopes Require Thick Skin

I applied for a grant.  When I got the thin envelope in the mail, I knew it was a rejection.  Nothing good comes in a thin envelope, right?  It was a ridiculous reach that I wasn’t really counting on getting, and it cost me nothing but time and ego to apply.  But still.

It hurt to see the thin envelope.

No one wants the thin envelope.

thin envelope

I texted Josh a picture of the rejection letter so he would know what a loser he was married to that I didn’t get the grant, and he wrote back all of the other things I have achieved recently.  And he’s right — I am only focusing on the thing I didn’t get vs. the things I did get — but thin envelopes do that to you.


We’ve started taking the twins to college campuses.  I know this seems ridiculously early, and we’re certainly not making special trips to see schools.  But if we happen to be near a college they may want to apply to one day, we swing by the campus to get a sense of the space.  They’re mentally making a list of what they like or don’t like.

I think a lot about their senior year and how they’ll have to apply to schools.  They’ll get into some — I hope — and they’ll likely get rejected from a few.  Those rejections are going to suck.  This grant — it was nothing, a little ego massage and money — but not getting into a school?  That’s like having someone torch a bridge, cutting off one of your possible life route.

I know I would have been a different person if I had gone to a different school.

There’s no way to protect them from that, unless they don’t apply at all, which doesn’t sound like the best way of dealing with the problem.  You’re probably going to tell me that rejection is a life lesson they need to learn and it will make them more resilient and yadda yadda yadda.

But here’s the thing: I’ve experienced this life lesson, and I have learned nothing from it.  Thin envelopes still hurt, even when they’re low stakes.  Even when they come the same week you sign a new book contract.  If resilience is not hurting when rejection comes, I have not learned resilience.

J.K. Rowling just posted two of her rejection letters online.  You don’t save things that are meaningless to you.  I’m not inside J.K. Rowling’s brain, but I would hazard a guess that if she saved those rejections, they probably bothered her at the time.  Regardless of what else she has accomplished in life; despite moving millions of copies of her books.  Rejections still hurt.

So, no, I don’t believe you can learn anything from rejection except that after you lick your wounds you need to be like Hercules Mulligan and get the fuck back up again.

Licking my wounds now.  I’ll get back up soon.


1 Cristy { 04.05.16 at 9:08 am }

Rejection hurts. Particularly when you’ve worked very hard for something. I’ve been dealing with this a lot, as sometimes the rejection is unfair (one needs to be part of a club or “in” group to be accepted). But the other thing I’m finding is that rejection can be a good thing. It can steer you in a direction you previously haven’t considered.

Let me know if you end up in my direction in the next couple of years. Would love to help give the twins a tour and inside glimpse into campus life.

2 Justine { 04.05.16 at 9:17 am }

*hug* I’m sorry, Mel … thin envelopes do suck, despite what everyone says about “hey don’t worry better luck next time” and “you’ll always have another chance” and “look at all of the other fabulous things you have” and “you’re a better person for it” and “you wouldn’t be the same person if this hadn’t happened to you” … hmmmm, this sounds a little bit like what people when you try to talk with them about infertility and pregnancy loss (which is not to compare the two, but to suggest something about how we empathize and deal with loss in general…). 🙁

3 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.05.16 at 9:50 am }

“Good news, bad news. Who knows?”

Congrats on your new signing. And I’m abiding with you about the thin envelope. Hugs, my friend.

4 Arnebya { 04.05.16 at 10:14 am }

Was just speaking with friends yesterday about rejection, more in the line of speaking at conferences. The declination email (man, I’ve gotten so many “no, thanks” emails from employers) is hard to read and it absolutely depends on the person’s ability to keep on keepin’ on.

5 Elizabeth { 04.05.16 at 12:30 pm }

A grant rejection letter during grad school was a major turning point in my self-perception, especially as it came in the throes of IF and the same day I found out that another woman in my program was accidentally pregnant. So I’m resonating all over the place with this post.

My husband was just telling me about some resilience study (from a stats blog he reads) that redefined resilience not as feeling no pain, but as eventually returning to an emotional state approximately the same as before the hurt or damage.

It’s not that you’re not resilient, but that rejection just fucking hurts.

6 Turia { 04.05.16 at 12:36 pm }

I’m sorry about the grant. Rejection always hurts. You have a wise husband (Q. would do the same thing for me) but sometimes you just need a moment to be hurt.

7 Alexicographer { 04.05.16 at 1:41 pm }

I’m sorry. It’s true, no one wants the thin letter.

On the colleges thing, though, I have to say my thinking is what you do once you’re there matters way, way, way more than where you go. Kids (and parents) seem to put so much attention on the first time point (where can/will I go) and devote much less energy to the second one (where will I put my effort now that I’m wherever I am), whereas I think they’d often do better to reverse the emphasis/energy-deployment.

8 Sharon { 04.05.16 at 1:54 pm }

Ugh, I’m sorry about your grant.

Yeah, I’m with you: I don’t think you learn anything through rejection per se. To the extent that there is a lesson to be learned from rejection, maybe it’s just perseverance? So more in how we handle the rejection than the rejection itself.

9 Peg { 04.05.16 at 2:34 pm }

Sorry you didn’t get the grant…but totally love the Hamilton reference. It’s been the nonstop playlist in our car and house for weeks…the discussions of Hamilton vs Jefferson and the silliness of duels have been hilarious too 🙂

10 deathstar { 04.05.16 at 4:58 pm }

Speaking as someone who has auditioned a lot this year and has not received a single yes – I’m still smarting – I know the feeling of the thin envelope well. I was rejected for the acting program for my 2nd year. I went to a prestigious acting school in NYC and I did not get in the 2nd year. It crushed me. It smarted for years to keep getting the alumni newsletter asking for donations and updates – &&(*() YOU. And then of course, I went on to having a 20 year career in acting. Which is more than I can say for the graduates.

11 b+ (Retire in Style Blog) { 04.05.16 at 5:00 pm }

Thank you for saying it outloud. Getting recognized is hard, rejection is cr*&&^y and no amount of platitudes can change that. But, when it comes to your children, it is the example you set when you take a risk even when you know the answer may be NO. Risks, my friend, are a very good thing.

12 a { 04.05.16 at 5:29 pm }

Sorry about your grant. 🙁

13 Jess { 04.05.16 at 9:32 pm }

I’m so sorry for the thin envelope…rejection completely sucks. And to have it fast forward you to the possibility of your twins receiving thin envelopes in their college pursuits…that’s so hard to think about, too. I love that you’re exposing them to college space well in advance, to get a sense of what they like and what they don’t and then probably narrow it in as they get closer. And I think you are resilient. I think resilience isn’t not feeling the pain of rejection each time, it’s the getting the eff back up each time and not letting it end you. I hope for more thick envelopes in the future, near and far!

14 Journeywoman { 04.05.16 at 10:52 pm }

Within one week at the university I attended, I met my soul-sister and my husband.

15 Charlotte { 04.06.16 at 7:59 am }

I had to help my daughter through a rejection letter this time last year. It was the fucking most heart-wrenching thing to do, coming off of the shitty middle school years. There is no playbook for helping someone through that. A lot of it is really an internal struggle and words and advice and all that don’t help right away.

So you just through into this post that you got. New book deal!!!?! Please share!! And so many congrats Mel. You rock! Screw the rejectors-THEY are the ones missing out!!!

16 Charlotte { 04.06.16 at 7:59 am }

* threw. I love how auto correct likes to tell you what you mean to say.

17 Kasey { 04.06.16 at 10:58 am }

Even when I know it’s probably coming (submitting to the top journal because what if) it still hurts. Because rejection is part of academic life I’m learning not to take it personally, but I will allow myself to wallow for a day. The hardest rejection I got was a paper was rejected from a journal on the same day I was getting an award from the publisher for something else. But the mixed signals really threw me for a loop.
I think it will be much harder watching my kids as they have to endure the inevitable rejection of schools or special programs. I think it’s awesome that you are taking them to visit colleges.

18 katherinea12 { 04.06.16 at 11:28 am }

I’m sorry about your grant and the thin envelope. Rejection sucks so, so much.

19 Catwoman73 { 04.07.16 at 8:32 am }

Oh Mel, I’m sorry. Rejection stinks. But the platitudes are around for a reason- every cloud has a silver lining, every time a door closes a window opens, and it’s quite possible that everything does happen for a reason. Six months ago, I lost out on a job that I desperately wanted, and by all rights, should have been mine. I was really upset, but then three months ago, there were massive cuts in that organization, and the girl who got that job is now unemployed. Life just has a way of working out sometimes. I always choose to believe that something better is just around the corner. Hugs!

20 Jamie { 04.08.16 at 1:48 am }

I’m sorry to hear about your rejection letter. No fun, no matter how big or how small. Resilience is not stagnant or singular. It is found in steps. It is a process. It is felt and embraced in the moving through with patience and persistence. You may be at the beginning. Be kind to yourself. You will get to the other side in time.

There is a good book on the subject, “Going on a Bear Hunt.”


(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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