Handling That Moment

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After the Preparation Day blog last week, I got some very positive and encouraging notes. I also got this one, “Sure. It’s easy to write about the kids who still have a chance, but what about those who are denied?” I took this to mean he either thought I was avoiding the subject or I did not have personal experience with it. Well, “Steve G.,” this one’s for you.

She was beautiful. Not Hollywood, head-turning, magazine cover, so-perfect-you-question-if-it-is-real beauty. Truly beautiful—in personality, intelligence, humor, and kindness. Beauty you saw when you met her, but that was made perfect—that  you fell in love with—when  you got to really know her. And I knew her. In fact, I’d known her since we were five. But we’d never had a moment like this.

You know the moment I’m talking about, right? You did take that pledge in last week’s post, didn’t you? You’ve prepared yourself for “no”? Well, I hadn’t.

“This isn’t working out.” We were juniors in high school and I was at her house working on math homework. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We will figure it out.” Then she paused and slowly put her pencil down. “No,” she said kindly, but definitively. “This. Us. It’s not working out.”

NoI could not quote you one thing my kids or my boss or any of my friends said to me in the past week, but I remember her words verbatim. It was like a movie, when all noises suddenly stop and things go black. Yeah… It was that moment.

It comes in relationships, jobs, and college admission. At some point, this moment comes for us all.

I really can’t remember what I said. Maybe nothing. All I remember is getting my bag and stumbling out of the door. Windows down. Music up. I screamed a messy blur of questions, anger, and tears.

Walking into the house, I was hoping to see nobody. Instead, my mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. I wanted to talk to nobody. Instead, we sat on the couch and she told me everything was going to be okay… there would be other girls… and maybe I was better off anyway.

Handling That Moment…

Last week we covered that you need to be prepared to hear “no.” I definitely don’t have all the answers but if you open a letter or portal or online account and find yourself in one of those moments, here are a couple things to remember.

You’re Not Okay. Go ahead and scream, cry, beat your pillow, cook or eat a lot of something (do all of those at once if you’re really upset). You do you. Whatever it takes to begin clearing your head. Mad? Sad? Frustrated? Disappointed? I get it. She was beautiful. She was amazing. It takes some time to get over that.

You Will Be Okay. If you are reading this before “that moment” you are thinking, “Yeah, I know.” If you are reading this afterwards, you are probably like, “Just let me keep on beating my pillow while I’m eating.”  You are probably thinking what I was with my mom that night, “How would you know? You never had your heart broken. You just woke up one day, married dad, and then had me, right?”

I’m telling you. She was beautiful. But I had convinced myself she was perfect.  If you find yourself in that moment, I hope you will have the clarity to know—or the willingness to hear your friends or parents or coaches remind you—of the truth: nobody is perfect. No college is either.

Here is the thing: every year—EVERY YEAR—we talk to current students (even tour guides!) who say Georgia Tech was not their first choice. They did not get in to their top school, or they could not afford another place, or a myriad of other reasons. But they ended up here and cannot imagine being anywhere else.

I also frequently hear from younger siblings or parents or counselors about a student we denied, and while devastated in the moment, is now loving (insert college name here) and doing great.

The truth(s) about being denied…

Note: We are going to move into some statistics and broader forces now, so if you are still in scream-mode, just come back when you are ready.

Truth #1: It’s not fair. All metaphors eventually break down, and we’ve come to that point. When my girlfriend broke up with me, it was personal. She couldn’t say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Nope. It was me. But for colleges it is about them. Let’s use Georgia Tech as an example. As a public school, we have an obligation to serve our state. Therefore, 60% of our undergraduate students are from Georgia. Ultimately, we anticipate Georgia applicants will only make up about 16% of our overall applicant pool, and their admit rate will be well over double that of students from out of state, and triple that of students from abroad. Translation: it is easier to “get in” from Georgia.

In other words, you may get denied by a school based on where you are from or what you want to study or because they are trying to grow this or that and you happen to be that and this.truth

Another comment I got after last week’s blog was from my friend Pam A., a college counselor here in Atlanta: “the way admission decisions FEEL is so different from how they are MADE.” Bam. That is spot on. It is fine to feel disappointed or mad or upset. Just be sure you understand a decision is not a prediction of your future success or potential. An admission decision is not an indictment of your character or a criticism of your ability.

Truth #2: Appealing is highly doubtful. Yes, you are entitled to appeal an admission decision. The truth is almost none of these are successful. If you appeal, be sure to read the conditions of a “reasonable appeal.” You can use Tech’s as an example. Typically valid reasons include not having your correct transcript or receiving inaccurate or incomplete grading information. Major medical situations or severe life circumstances you neglected to include in your application may also be reviewed as valid. “Really wanting to go” or because that was the only place you applied or because everyone in your family has gone there… not valid.

One of my colleagues puts it this way, “If you decide to appeal, you need to be prepared to be denied again.” That sounds cold. But the truth is like that sometimes. Actually, the truth is like that a lot.

Truth #3: You need to be realistic and move on. This may sound familiar but the bottom line is that, if you have not already, you need to submit a few more applications to schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that denied you. Get back to school. Finish this semester well because schools you apply to in Regular Decision will be looking extremely close at final fall semester grades.

Get back to your team, your job, your clubs, and your family. Take some time to look around at practice or over the holiday break at the relationships you have built. Be reminded of the community you created and the bond, closeness, and sense of belonging you feel. They want you with them. They love having you as part of it all. Being denied sucks. I feel your pain (still do, when I really look back on it).

“Preparing yourself for no” means looking at a deny not as a hard stop, but rather as a pivot. People think they are looking for the perfect college. You need to be looking for the perfect mentality.

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What’s Now?

“Let’s get a FastPass for Everest, run to Pandora, and then we can be to Epcot by noon.”

“If we alternate getting lunch while the others stand in line, we’ll only have a 30 minute wait each.”

Life is too important to be in a hurry
I happened to see this on a wall the day I was writing this blog post. What’s Now is a real thing.

These were just a couple of the “suggestions” I heard during our day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom last week. I’ve previously confessed to eavesdropping, but this time was different. These were not even conversations but rather commands called out over shoulders from 10 yards ahead as one family member looked manically at the Disney App and the others ralked behind (part run/part walk). You know, ralking—that  awkward gait where you attempt to keep more than two family members together in a crowded space that won’t allow a complete run, and  either hip alignment, lack of practice, or perhaps pride prohibits all out power walking.

Then of course there is the next level of determination and commitment, which I experienced first-hand. Without glancing back, a man yelled, “Can you hold it for the next 30 minutes? We gotta get to that side of the park NOW!” No response. I looked behind me and was pretty sure I saw his family a few yards back– all with large refillable Disney cups. This was not going to end well. Then, at a slightly louder volume, “Well…can you?!”  He finally slowed slightly, looked back expecting to see his family and instead…me. Confused and irritated he furrowed his eyebrows and quickly shook his head as if he had smelled something noxious. I’ll admit I wanted to nod my head courageously and say, “Yeah, I think so.” Instead, I just raised my shoulders, tilted my head slightly to the right and simultaneously squinted my left eye as if to say, “Probably not.”

What’s Now?

On some level, thinking about what’s next is all very understandable. There’s nothing wrong with trying to maximize life. Looking ahead is natural and having a plan is important. Organized, strategic, ambitious people accomplish amazing things, and if you’re reading this I’m guessing you have a lot of that in you. But there will always be a next.

I call this frontwards photobomb.
I call this frontwards photobomb.

At 17 it’s college; at 27 it’s a relationship or a job; at 37 next is a vacation or a house; at 47 and 57…. As you can see, somehow now becomes far more elusive.

Sometimes the plan, which is all in theory, needs to take a back seat to the tangible present—to the moment of now, where you can stop and reflect. While the next things are important, the ability to be mindful of the value of the things in the now is what builds and preserves relationships, brings smiles, makes memories, and allows you to remember exactly why (or if) the next thing is so important.

Don’t Wish Away Now for Next

As a senior in high school, especially in the spring, it’s easy to be completely focused on “What’s Next?” You are looking ahead to AP or IB exams; trying to figure out if you can get a job and fit in some trips this summer; or thinking about graduation. And, of course, the question of “Where are you going to college next year?” has not gone away.

If you are admitted to your dream school: You are fully committed— shirt purchased, bumper sticker on, the whole nine yards. The final weeks of school are simply an albatross and a nuisance. Tests, classes, and requirements are just a long line standing in your way to the ultimate ride.

If you are maddeningly debating between your college options: You have pro-conned this thing to death. You bought an eight ball. You asked Siri. You’ve flipped coins. You’ve got Venn diagrams including geography, size, major, and ROI. What’s next? is the only question consuming your mind.

If you are on a waitlist: First, on behalf of admission directors, VPs and deans everywhere, I am sorry. Really. In a perfect world there would be no waitlists. In a perfect world we’d all walk right up to Flight of Passage with a FastPass and enjoy the ride. Waiting can be frustrating in general, and The Waitlist Sucks in particular. The “what if’s” of both the past and the future are driving you crazy. You just want answers!Adventure

I’m asking you not to wish these final weeks of high school away. Do not let them be about just surviving or making it through. Days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years, and it happens fast, my friends. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

Listen.  You don’t owe me anything, but regardless of your current college plans I’m still going to ask you a favor. Take some time today to pause. Take a moment longer at breakfast or lunch and breathe. Go for a walk and look around. Consider and appreciate this moment in your life. For just a bit, forget about what’s next. Think about the people who helped get you to now, or those around you who are hurting right now, or those you know who need to be celebrated or encouraged now.

Tell your friends you are really going to miss them next year no matter where you all end up. Go back and visit the coach or teacher who inspired you or encouraged you in the ninth grade and would love to hear about where you are now. Hug your mom. Then walk out and come back in and do it again.

All of these folks are going to sorely miss you. While they love hearing you talk about what’s next and they’re legitimately excited for you, it also hurts. It’s the epitome of bittersweet. Share a few precious what’s now moments with them this week.

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