A Failed Dream

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There’s a story that I haven’t told you. The story of being rejected from every doctoral program that I applied to.

Last year I had a baby. A baby that my husband and I planned for and dearly wanted. Freshly graduated from my graduate program, I was ready to have her. With her as an infant, life was slow and all of my unmanageable expectations about motherhood had been seared off with my first two children. I nursed and rocked Ruby to sleep. I was patient with her, with our two older boys. I looked to the future really proud of what I had just accomplished in school and I waited. Looking back on that time it feels so luxurious. Sweet babies. Time spent well. Patience. Freedom.

When it was time, and what I mean by that is when we needed the money and I needed to boost my CV, I started back to teaching writing and literature in the university as an adjunct. Or, as our department so eminently  bestows upon us, as an affiliate faculty member. With all of the time it demanded away from my baby, she slowly started to wean. Much sooner than I had ever wanted. But I knew that it was all for a dream that I had stashed away in my heart. I began to slowly build my application packages for a handful of doctoral programs. Programs at Universities far too prestigious and important for me and any of my work.  That is what probably makes me the most embarrassed; feeling so worthy of those places. Jason and I were ready. We put our garden back to grass. Started looking at houses in all of the different cities that we might go. I dreamed of the classes and the writing and the books that I’d be reading. Chiefly, I felt important. Bigger than my body could hold. And maybe that’s what was wrong. My grandma always used to tell me that I was too big for my breeches. She saw it in me then; a desire to be bigger than I am. To burst out of my skin. To give the world something that they haven’t yet seen.

Well, nothing is more humbling than having rejection letters stream into your in-box week after week. I expected a few. I didn’t, however, expect for all of them to be rejections. In the back of my mind there is a handful people snickering at my loss. People happy and glad and full of I-told-you-so’s. And honestly, it makes me think of my mom and my dad who I haven’t talked to in years and how if they knew, they’d probably laugh and be glad, too. It serves me right; me and my big ol’ breeches.

When I was 5 or 6, I would stand on top of my plastic Mickey Mouse table in the basement of my grandparent’s house and sit them both around me as my admiring spectators. Ed McMahon called out my name, introduced me to the judges, and I belted “Over the Rainbow” into my plastic microphone.  3 and 3/4 stars! he declared. My grandparent’s clapped and cheered and I took my bow. My parents, however, rarely sat and listened. And if they did, I sensed their annoyance. Little children have a way of sensing those things. Or maybe it was my step dad mock singing at home in our kitchen and telling me that all I thought about was myself and that it was my grandparent’s fault. Maybe that’s what tipped me off.

But isn’t it annoying when grown adults have childhood issues? Blaming their lives and failures on a past filled with flawed, imperfect people?  I’ve never blamed my parents for anything wrong with me or my life. Not that there’s much to complain about. But in moments like these, when I’m feeling rejected and embarrassed, I hear a deep ugly laugh and a terrible rendition of “Over the Rainbow” being sung at me. As if to say, how dare you think you’re important?  And often I believe it.

A few days before Easter this year we attended a Maundy Thursday service at a house filled with people from our church. Our pastor was there and he’s been keeping up with this academic journey of mine and checking in on me, praying for me and my family, asking how it’s going. When I told him, again, about another rejection, he got real close to me, as he tends to do, looked at me and said, “Ashley, the Lord is just so proud of you. He sees you and your work and is just so, so proud.” And my goodness, did my heart ever swell and tears fall down my face. Words of grace that I needed to hear. Not that everything happens for a reason. Or that God has other plans. Or that those places are missing out. Or that they made a mistake or that I should try again. But that who I am and all that I’ve done makes the Lord proud. No mocking. No laughing. No rejection. No oversized breeches. Only love and an embrace.

And just like that, my desire to impress and meet other’s expectations and my embarrassment for failing fell away. At least for now.

Right now I’m deciding to not reapply next year. There are lots of reasons why I’ve made this decision, and maybe I’m making it too soon and irrationally off the heels of rejection. That’s probably right. I’m rethinking what my priorities are for me and my family and what I will do. But I’m trying to not make that important right now. I’ll be writing. Both here and personally. Taking life slow. Caring for my kids. Doing average, menial, not very valued stuff. And you all will just have to be okay with that.

 

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22 thoughts on “A Failed Dream

  1. I have a feeling this next year may be one of the most meaningful in your life. You are as special as how your babies look at you. You said it yourself, kids have a way of sensing things. Their admiration is no mistake.

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  2. I can’t even articulate how much I appreciate this story. It resonates, it stings and it also sings (yes – SINGS! And beautifully, too) with the resonance of insight that grows into resilience, strength, and the drive to try again. To reach for goals that may be the same or may be modified, but with a fuller footing that will extend your reach farther than you can now imagine. I don’t know why, but I’m sure of it. If something inside you tells you that you need to reach – reach, reach, REACH. Do it with grace and humility and silly optimistic joy, but REACH. When I was maybe 6 or 7, my mom and I came across a gentle older man in a store. He was just sitting, waiting. Somehow, we got into a conversation, he and I, while he was waiting for his wife, and he ‘read’ my palm and pointed at a unique marking on my left hand and said: ‘Wow, There is something very, very special there.’. There was no reason for me to do so, but I took that completely and utterly to heart. And it stayed in a little corner of me the whole time I grew up, the whole time I was mocked, teased, rejected, unsupported, scapegoated and worse. I always thought, somewhere inside:’Well, you don’t know about THIS.’ And it kept me going. Not to say that crippling rejections of various kinds, self doubt and failing to reach many, many goals hasn’t occurred – because it certainly has. But – it’s there somewhere. Almost like a little doubt that I just can’t shut up, despite how miserable things can sometimes be! Thanks for the reminder, and I hope you keep that spirit burning somehow! 🙂

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    1. Thank you very much. And it is nice to hear stories from the other side of rejection. It’s good to have hope and a new vision for success. Best of luck to you on your journey as well.

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  3. Life has had a funny way of surprising me. It was sort of when I fell off the trajectory I always imagined for myself and just occupied my days with what was in front of me that I felt myself really grow/ learn/ live/other inspiring words. It is easy to crave those accolades and validations which come from a recognized structure… but truthfully even the validating goals I have reached are pale in comparison to the unplanned course. By which I just mean: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need. Or- May you always be pleasantly surprised no matter what. Lovely post.

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  4. This is such a hard thing to share. Thank you for doing it. You are not a failure and I see we are not the same person as you jokingly mentioned in a post of mine. You dared to be scholarly and put yourself out there and juggle juggle juggle. Well done.

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  5. Wow!! You have no idea how strong and courageous you are for sharing this! Recently I have had a similar struggle trying to return to full-time work in the IT field since having my daughter & earning my B.S. Degree in 2014. I just knew that once I was ready (my daughter reaching her 1st birthday) I would nail my dream job! Countless interviews and rejections later I still haven’t settled into anything full-time yet. Right there with you with all those feelings of not being good enough, and feeling like a fool for believing I could so easily! And so I’ve decided to take a break from searching (at the moment) because it can be so disheartening!

    But I continue to be hopeful and seek God for HIS plans for my life. Because for me, that means that he is leading me down a different path (the doors He opens NO MAN can close!!) and so it has been therapeutic focusing on that and discovering other passions (like web development, blogging & photography). I am now convinced that He has many other things in store for me. And currently taking a leap of faith to start a business of my own.

    Don’t dumb yourself down though Mama!! #1: The work we do as mothers is THEE most important job in the world! (It’s sound cliche but it’s true!) #2: God has his hand on you & He is proud! And I believe that in time you may reveal why or something greater in store for you!💗

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    1. Oh, I never intended to say that motherhood is menial! I don’t believe it is! But many do, and still I do it. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your story. I’m lucky to have found you in this digital world!

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  6. I think most children feel singular and special, and that they’re meant to do great things-as they should. It keeps us striving to do great things. Maybe it’s the striving that’s important. And yes, motherhood is far from menial and average. Our kids are only young once, and we’ll never get it back again, so I try to enjoy it now as best I can. But I understand the need to be more, too. We women are so tough on ourselves!

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    1. I’m sorry if I implied that motherhood is menial. I definitely do not believe that it is. I mean to say that a lot of culture does believe that it is and yet I still do it out of love for them. Thank you for reading. I appreciate having you in this space.

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  7. Being comfortable with where you are now is no easy thing to accomplish. Congratulations to you for finding satisfaction in what you are doing, regardless of whether that may change in the future (I wish you well there too, of course). My eldest daughter lives in a beautiful world where everything is OK and there is no need to strive for something more. She manages to be happy with what she has, regardless of what society (or, indeed, her parents) think about the situation. I’m so jealous of her. I often wonder if I could just step in there with her for a bit, to feel the weight of trying to be ‘more’ lifted off my shoulders. Maybe I will manage it myself one day.

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  8. Negativity can play all kinds of tricks on our self-worth. Take a break if you must but don’t give up. It’s happening to us all in this not-very-friendly world we now find ourselves in. Don’t let it make you give up your big dreams.

    My roommate (a good friend) just went through almost a year of rejections after being laid off at Sony after 6 years. The only reason his department lost their jobs was because the jobs are now in another country.

    Every time he got a job offer it wasn’t permanent. He finally took a job during the holidays at Walmart for 4 months. They really liked him and one person from another department said he’d hire him for a permanent job that was coming up. When the time came, he wrote him telling him he gave it to a woman (who had never worked for Walmart before.) My friend being white, in his 50’s and a college graduate figured the woman was probably younger and good looking. I think he was probably right in this case.

    All the jobs offered were also around $15 an hour. Even single, who can live on that in the Bay Area? He made more money than that before losing his job. He found himself a minority that no one wanted to hire. This is a well-known fact of life now. It used to count that you were a good worker with experience and a college degree who didn’t take off work at the drop of a hat. He’s an American citizen who’s from this state! Not being prejudice but if he’d been from India he’d of had a job right away.

    He finally (through sheer luck) got a permanent job recently (not the money he was looking for) but not before we almost ended up homeless. We were terrified! What do you do when you can’t get a job and want to work? There is something really screwed up about how jobs are given and to whom in this country now. And all the jobs are still streaming out of this country. Big companies should be ashamed and reprimanded.

    I know your situation is a little different but don’t give up because it could be worse in the future, unfortunately, it’s getting worse all of the time. I have so many friends who WANTED to be teachers but they couldn’t take the pay, bad attitudes by parents and other negatives they never expected to put up with. Most of them have quit to do other things if, they can find them. I have so many friends who are back living at home (lucky they can) because they can’t pay for student loans, schooling, or find a job period.

    I don’t know what “they” expect people to do anymore. The way teachers, policemen, community leaders and people who choose to work in these fields are treated are horrible. Then there’s people like my roommate (and even me) who just want a job so they can eat and have a place to live. It doesn’t say much for people who had big dreams to be someone, because the world just doesn’t seem to care but we can’t just give up. Of course, I’m running out of ideas as to what we can do. Hang in there!

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    1. This is such a kind thing for you to say. I really appreciate you taking the time to write such an encouragement for me. It has been a rough few months, and you never know, I might hop back on that horse again, though I am finding a nice space to write on my own and teach my classes. We’ll see what the future has in store. Thank you so much again.

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      1. You are so welcome! We need to stick together in these fragile times. I look forward to your writing. I write poetry and flash fiction myself on my other site. Have a good week!

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