comfort zone growth

I was rejected from my dream

How rejection and discomfort lead to growth

Rejection sucks. In any way or form, no matter if it’s personal, professional, or anything in between. A big part of growth is getting comfortable with discomfort; part of that is facing inevitable rejection.

This week, my application to Imperial College’s Master’s in Strategic Marketing program was unsuccessful, and the rejection email came right as I wanted to sit down and write this week’s article. I won’t lie; it has thrown me a little off balance, and it’s taken a while to come to terms with it. A little background on the situation:

I never went for an undergraduate degree. When faced with the choice of closing down The Codeero Group and going off to study, I took what at the time looked like a reasonable choice and decided to give the “University of Life” a try. This was met with lots of different reactions from everyone in my circle; however, sooner than later, this decision was accepted. Back then, the only degree I thought I could have studied was Computer Science, and I felt like it would be a waste of my time as I had been running a digital agency for the better part of 4 years. I knew I wanted to come back to academia one way or another to be able to do my master’s and doctorate, and I always thought that I would somehow find a way.

Over the course of the following years, I’ve explored many possibilities, from an online bachelor’s degree to doing an “individual course of study” with a university I’d have some ties to, such as UNIC in Cyprus. None of these came to fruition, and I forgot and moved on for the time being. A few years later, in 2021, a friend informed me that the school they were completing their PhD had recently started to offer eMBAs and that these programs would be more flexible to take my work experience over the lack of a bachelor’s. This revelation again instilled a new drive in me to explore my options, as maybe this was the way. Long story short, between the cost (starting at 45k USD) and the fact that the “executive” part of that program wouldn’t grant me any option of continuing, that option also fell through. 

This brings us to last January (2023) when I found the seemingly perfect fit in Imperial College’s Marketing Master’s. The online program could allow students without bachelors and on the merit of work experience, of which I had plenty. Once more, the drive was activated, and my hopes had gone up. Over the following days, I created my application, reworked the motivational letter and uploaded all documentation, reached out to get the required recommendations, and paid the application fee. I knew my chances were slim and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But hey! Maybe, just maybe, this could be the way. 

I was 99% of the way there; the only remaining step was to write a short Personal Statement about myself and why I’d be a good fit. Easy, right? 

Leaving Your Comfort Zone Is Scary 

I never filled out that last part of the application in 2023. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I never hit submit. I gave myself many explanations, such as:  “Oh, life got in the way,” or “I was so busy with work,” or simply forgot. There may have been some truth to each of those, but the real, underlying reason was that deep down, I knew it wouldn’t work. I was scared to leave my comfort zone and to give it a try, and in a way, “forgetting” to hit send was better than getting the official “no”. This way, that dreaded “what if” would actually bring comfort; I’d never have to find out. Life moved on; we moved to Italy, and there was so much going on that I had completely moved on and forgotten. 

Rejection Sucks 

Sitting at my Grandma’s in Poland this April, I stumbled upon my application materials from last year. Over the weekend, I brushed everything up, updated my CV, wrote that Personal Statement (overcoming my hatred of talking about myself—the irony of this newsletter is not lost on me), and hit send. 

What followed was a mix of feelings. On the one hand, I was proud that I finally did it and would find out one way or another. I overcame my discomfort and just “shipped it” and could finally say that I tried everything. This was, in many ways, the last option. I promised myself I wouldn’t get my hopes up and tried to move on with my life, awaiting the decision on my admission. I still knew deep down that I’d more than likely not get in, but that slight chance, that slither of a percent, that maybe, just maybe, was enough to get my hopes up. I imagined how it would be to return to school, browsed the course catalog, and thought about which electives I could take. This could be the year I would finally do it and start pursuing my old dream.

Somewhat symbolically, right after I woke up, I got the notification on my phone. I got happy for a second, thinking this must be the link to schedule an interview and continue to the next phase. I was wrong. 

“Your application has been unsuccessful,” the email read. I was devastated, and it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I was sure I was ready for it and that my hopes didn’t go unnecessarily high up, but as human nature is, they did. 

A huge shoutout to Imperial for including the result directly in the email and not making you jump through hoops and logins. It’s much appreciated, and more results emails should do this! 

Now, a few days later, the dust settled, and the emotions have lived themselves out. I won’t lie; I still am sad that it didn’t work out, and I can’t help but feel rejected in a way. I know that’s not the case, and this just didn’t work out. It’s not a reflection of myself, but it still stings. The thing is, that’s okay too. It’ll hurt for a while, and like everything else, time will heal all wounds. 

Discomfort (and thus rejection) leads to growth. 

I’m still glad and proud that I submitted it. Overcoming that discomfort, even embracing it, has helped me grow in a way and improve my actions compared to last year. It’s a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Often, in this part of the story, I’d say that I won’t give up, that I’ll find a way, or tell you about how I did manage in the end. I wish that was the case, but realistically, this was my last attempt at returning to higher education. 

Ever since deciding not to accept university offers in 2017, I’ve not spoken about this dream of mine to anyone (well, nearly anyone). I knew the consequences of my decisions, and it would have felt wrong to complain when I was the one who put me in this place. Nonetheless, my dream of doing a master’s lived on. I wanted to dive deep into some of the greatest minds in Marketing and Advertising, learn from great peers and faculty, and eventually be able to go on to do a PhD. The thought of devoting months to the research of the thin line between human psychology and marketing, teaching, and hopefully, in a way, inspiring the next generation lived on, albeit buried deep down. 

It’s time to accept that this path is not for me. It’s hard and discomforting, but I am sure that in the long term, it will help me grow. 

Love from Kraków,


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