APRIL KUNG, DVM ♦ February 24, 2018
The harsh reality about applying to veterinary school is that the majority of applicants will not be accepted. If you’re one of those people, you’ll no doubt experience feelings of failure and rejection, of self doubt, of sadness and disappointment, and perhaps even embarrassment, anger or frustration. In anticipation of being accepted to veterinary school, you will have cleared a space on your calendar for the foreseeable future in hopes your dance card would be happily full for the next four years. If you find yourself holding an empty dance card, you must decide what to do with your life instead of what you really wanted to do – at least, perhaps, until the next application cycle.
The answer often isn’t really, “No,” it’s “No, but…”
More important than what you decide to do next however, is how you decide to interpret this setback. It’s easy to think that a rejection letter is an objective judgment against your intelligence, your character, your personality, your potential, your worth. But there is nothing objective about it at all. Admissions committees are made up of human beings, and human beings make subjective judgments.
Your judgments are subjective too. The difference is you can control yours. You have total control over how you choose to judge this “failure.” You can choose to believe it means you’re not good enough, or you can choose to believe what all successful people choose to believe when they fail – that failures are mere stepping stones on the path to success.
The story you tell yourself about what this setback means will shape your frame of mind, and your frame of mind will shape your behavior, and your behavior will shape your future. I’d like you to tell yourself a story about how not getting into veterinary school is going to give you the opportunity to grow as a human being as you try new things and explore new opportunities. Tell a story of bold adventures where you work with wallabies in Australia, elephants in Thailand or cheetahs in South Africa or travel to a third world country to help prevent the spread of rabies, or volunteer at the local zoo, or take a job that will stretch your abilities and push you out of your comfort zone. Tell a story about the important lessons failure can teach us.
I don’t mean to come off as glib about what I know must be an immensely painful disappointment. Failure isn’t fun, and rejection hurts. But when the universe says, “No,” it’s been my experience that it’s rarely the impenetrable brick wall it first appears to be. The answer often isn’t really, “No,” it’s “No, but…” No, but you can try again. No, but there are other possibilities. No, but how badly do you really want this?
I know of someone who tried five times before finally getting into veterinary school. She ultimately succeeded because she continued to believe in herself despite multiple rejections. She trusted her subjective judgment over the subjective judgments of others – and she prevailed. I interviewed Dr. Lisa Lippman on my podcast. She tried three times before getting into vet school. Read this article about her then come back and listen to her interview – and then just try to tell me she isn’t amazing and brilliant and completely worthy of the DVM degree.
I’m not saying you should continue trying to get into veterinary school just to prove you can. Maybe you’ll reassess your dreams and take another path. That is a fine option as well. But if your desire to become a veterinarian remains undiminished despite the judgments of admissions committees, then make your own subjective judgment of this setback into an opportunity to learn and grow, and choose to see it as merely a temporary road block. Then do what every successful person does in the face of failure: Up your game and try again.