On Disappointment

Posted by Howard on Thursday, March 2, 2017

I’ve been completely unfocused this week waiting to hear the outcome of a meeting that I knew was planned for Tuesday. The meeting was of the admissions committee for MIT’s Sloan School of Management. In the fall, I began work on applying to the executive MBA program - and this process took me through writing 4 essays, securing 3 letters of recommendation, and even dusting off (translation: rewriting) my resume. In January, I advanced to the in-person interview stage of the process - it looked like this thing could really happen. However, everything came down to Tuesday’s meeting and I had not heard the outcome until this morning.

It was not the outcome I was hoping for.

Dear Howard: The Selection Committee of the MIT Executive MBA Program has considered your application, and we regret that we cannot offer you a place in the Class of 2019. The number of extremely well-qualified applicants this year has made the selection process especially difficult. Unfortunately, because of the high volume of applications we receive and our limited staff, we cannot conduct post-evaluation interviews with candidates not admitted. We thank you for your interest in the MIT Executive MBA and offer you our best wishes for success in your future endeavors.

I’m sharing this with you for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it provides me an opportunity to work through my reactions, thoughts and emotions. My most natural way of processing things is verbally - and my most natural way of organizing things is by writing - so processing through this rejection in writing makes sense. Secondly though, in this world where it seems like everyone is awesome at everything (because we have become conditioned to portraying ourselves that way), I want to provide visibility into my failures as well as my successes (and my other random thoughts). This latter reason is not completely altruistic as I’ll get to in a moment.

So, here are my thoughts at the moment, in no particular order.

  • I’m disappointed. Plain and simple, I wish that I had been accepted and I’m bummed out that I was rejected. I’m further disappointed that I don’t know the reasons behind why I was rejected. I felt like I didn’t present myself as well as I could have during my interview, but also felt like I had a strong application and reference letters. From the brief decision statement, I can only assume that I either have a major blind spot in assessing my own performance (possible) or that the other candidates were significantly stronger.

  • I will save a bunch of money! As I’m sure you might imagine, schools like Sloan are quite proud of their programs. The cost of the executive MBA would have been around 165,000 USD. If you add to the travel and expense that would accompany the program, I was trying to figure out how I could come up with around 200,000 USD. Also, contrary to popular belief, even large companies (such as the one I work for) do not pay for programs like these. The overwhelming majority of the cost would have come from my pocket - and had today’s outcome been different, I would now be stressed out trying to figure out how to pay for everything.

  • I wanted MIT more than MBA. On sober reflection, the most significant observation that I’ve made thus far is that I was far more excited about joining the MIT community than I was going through the MBA program. I tried to convince myself (and others I talked to) that this wasn’t true, but I’m pretty sure that it was wishful thinking on my part, and I suspect that my interviewers could tell as well.

  • My pride needed to be put in check. I’m a bit ashamed to admit this one, but the fact of the matter is that as I thought that I might be admitted into the program, I was already starting to entertain thoughts of “superiority” with respect to other schools and other people. Put differently, I was starting down the path to becoming this guy.

Nobody likes this guy

  • I’m still glad I applied. Going through the application process provided me with a great opportunity for self-reflection and focus on my priorities. Additionally, rejection like this serves as a reminder that I’m stepping outside of my “safe zone” and continuing to push myself. As someone who has spent a larger percentage of his professional and personal life following the comfortable path, I consider the simple act of applying to be one of growth. On top of all that, I now finally have a resume again!

So to summarize:

  • Rejection hurts and disappoints
  • But it always carries learnings with it
  • And it will weave itself into the larger story - you just don’t get to see it in context for a while :)