Who Says Three Times is Charm? Persistence Pays Off on the 19th Attempt at Graduate School

Failure, defeat and rejection. Nobody likes to talk about it but I’ll share my experience so that you can grow and learn from it. In pursuing my undergraduate education, I applied to various graduate programs. My first encounter with rejection came at the hands of McGill university. They ended up rejecting me five times. At first, it was as a ripe student fresh out of college. Let me describe how the first one felt. But before I do this, let me tell you what it takes to apply.


My Arduous Journey for Acceptance

The application process is tedious and time consuming. I guess that’s the least of your worries. Finding three letters of reference can be challenging considering they should be specific and tailored for the specific program. You need someone who will sign off on being generally accommodating and willing to constantly change the “to” field. It’s always a good idea to apply to more places than to fewer because you simply never know what fate lies ahead. I certainly would not anticipate getting an education can be so difficult. Each application cost on average $100 today and is sent with your pride on the line. When I got my first response from McGill, I was excited to see their logo on the envelope. The thin content, as I tore it open, can hopefully be succinct. Welcome and here is what you need to know. As I read through the letter, my heart skipped a beat. Actually quite a few beats as I was devastated. My hopes and aspirations were cut with a sharp knife. I asked all the wrong questions: why didn’t I get in? What did I do wrong? Why me? I felt hopeless and unmotivated. Albert Einstein was quoted saying that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This by the way is the single most difficult concept my athletes have a hard time overcoming because you can do the same thing again and get a different result because in sports the other player or team may have played one of their best games. I certainly did try again. I did so because one study made me realize that when you don’t get what you want, trying again is simply one successful opportunity away. Past experience is not relevant.

This Old Experiment Say it All
The study was performed by Martin Seligman and consists of observing dogs who have had averse experiences in the form of shocks delivered to their paws on a gate that the dogs were stepping on. The experience on dogs is no longer allowed but it did allow us to learn on the concept of motivation, persistence and resilience. The study had two sets of dogs prior to the shocks. One of them who were able to freely walk around a cage and another one who had a barrier preventing them to cross over the other side. The barrier would be higher than the picture below.
The study then delivered mild shocks to the paws of the dogs on one side of the cage Naturally, the dog would want to escape this experience and go to the other side.  The shocks can be compared to the adversity everyone experiences day-to-day. Those dogs who were allowed to walk freely escaped the shock by going to the other side of the cage. Interestingly, those dogs who were limited to half the cage because of a barrier sat passively enduring the shocks even though this barrier was now removed. Seligman described the dogs as learned helpless. The dogs according to him, believed that no matter what they did, they cannot avoid this aversive experience because the dogs tried in the past and could not get to the other side. They cried in despair as they endured the shock. How many times have you tried to achieve your goal? Perhaps it is only one more try that is needed. If unsuccessful, repeat. I certainly did try and change something in my application process as my grades were average in my undergraduate career. I enrolled in a graduate diploma in sports administration at the John Molson School of Business which is highly regarded and considered like a Masters in Business Administration but for only one year rather then two. My grades picked up because it was only then that I realized first hand the importance of getting high grades and more specifically the consequences of not getting high grades. One of the points I would like to emphasize is that at that time I applied at 10 universities thinking that at least one of them would accept me. I simply wanted to go to grad school. They all rejected me. It was only on my 19th try that I finally was accepted at the university of Montreal to study sports psychology. I was paired up and trained by the sports psychologist of the National Hockey League Montreal Canadiens and was ecstatic. Perhaps, even relieved. Prior to this, the university already rejected me in the same program.  At that time McGill had rejected me five times. I’ve been refused admission to study more then eighteen times as I only counted the number of times I was refused from graduate school. By the way, my grade point average for my masters degree was 3.7 which is essentially straight A’s. My worst grade was a B+
On the Course to “Change”
The first thing you need to change is your mindset. For me, getting rejected meant that I must try again. Opportunity is only one yes away. I wanted to try again. The affirmation I use is that failure means I am more successful. As an analogy, think about the best baseball players in the world who fail at least 70% of the time and who are in the hall of fame. Failing 7,000 times means he’s succeeded 3000 times and by the way making millions of dollars. Thomas Edison who is recognized in trying over 10,000 times in developing the light bulb is a success story. Those who fail the most are the most successful. Don’t just stop failing at things once or twice. Do it many times and heck, enjoy the process along the way.
The next thing you need to do is prepare yourself to fail. Understand that trying in itself is a process that is rewarding and enriching. Exercise the muscle of being resilient. Don’t take it personally. I also referee ice-hockey for more then 25 years and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been insulted, berated and put down on the ice. I tell myself they are yelling at the sweater. Listen to the criticism but don’t be threatened because it is an attack of your personality or who you are. I don’t like to ignore it either as it gives the appearance that you are superior.
The Cost of Doing Nothing Can Hurt
Think of the alternative of not trying. If you are 40 years old and still thinking of pursuing your passion, you can still have a good 25 years left of doing what you love to do. Imagine you are 20 years old simply attracted by making more money doing something rather then really enjoying what you are doing. Certainly, there is some pain along the road i.e. studying and jumping through needless hoops. However, my advice to you is to follow your passion. Listen to your heart. Enjoy what you do. What if you are 50 years old and tell yourself what a feeling it would be to pursue what you always wanted to do once and for all. If not now, then when? Stay the course and try again. Don’t just go through the routine of trying but totally absorb yourself in the situation and do it with conviction, heart and passion.
 About  the Author
Coach Doron is a sports psychology coach and helps people reach their goals. He can be reached at 514-963-FLOW (3569) or toll free 1877-778-FLOW (3569) via email at info@flowinsports.com or visit www.flowinsports.com He currently works with athletes from all kinds of sports and a range of talent from recreational to professional ever since he graduated in Sports Psychology from the University of Montreal in 2001.

By Coach Doron

Coach Doron is a sports psychology coach who helps athletes improve their mental skills.

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