As I write this, I’m really telling this story to “older me”, because sadly, “older me” is more afraid to fail than younger me was. Perhaps the increased failure rate I’ve encountered as an adult has encouraged me to fail less. I need to start failing more, just like I did in college. I turned out fine, and so will you.
A story in which everyone has the same chance
It was senior year of high school, and the guidance counselor made a presentation to our senior and junior class. Miss. Fleur told us a local company was offering a scholarship for students who could write the best research paper on the supply chain of any popular product. First prize was $20,000 and second prize was $5,000.
My ears perked up. Oh, really?
Miss Fleur continued, “Last year only two people entered. I hope you guys will consider entering. It’s a lot of money for a scholarship.” We were told this in September, and the deadline was the next May. For those of you at home, that’s EIGHT MONTHS. You had eight months to write the best research paper you could come up with on a certain supply chain for the chance at winning TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in scholarship money.
So, I went and looked at the winners from the last year. There were 2 awards given that year, and guess how many entries there were? Drumroll…. TWO. There were two entries, so you were all but guaranteed a win if you at least tried. First place wrote a 40 page paper. The second place entry was kind of terrible. It was maybe 8 pages and won $5,000. If it took you 2 hours per page (which is pretty slow, no?), that’s $300/hr. Not a bad return on your time, right? Especially as a high school senior. Where else would you get even close to that kind of money?
Procrastination at its finest
I put it in the back of my mind until next May, about 2 weeks before the scholarship was due. At that time, I had graduated and it was basically summer vacation until college. My mind had checked out. Senioritis was hard in play. Most of my scholarships were already secured, but I was still missing a tiny bit of money I would need to pay outright. The scholarships I had under my belt were mostly of the fill-out-your-grades-leadership-activities variety. Not ones where you had to be creative or do any kind of extra academic work, though some had short and creative essays.
I probably thought about the topic for a week before deciding on Tostitos Queso cheese*. I ended up with a 60+ page paper on it, with a few more pages for the appendix. 3 days before it was due, I kicked my butt into gear, writing about a page per hour, before pulling an all-nighter the last night. In total, I probably spent 60 hours on the paper, including a short 20 slide presentation. The presentation was for the second round. 1/2 of your score was judged on the paper itself and the other half was based on the presentation.
2 weeks later, I got an email telling me I had progressed to the finalist portion. I dressed up, got my presentation ready and proceeded to speak on it. It went fairly well. I said “um” a lot as I hadn’t ever actually practiced the presentation, I probably forgot more than a few words, but I got through the presentation pretty intact. Forgive me guys, I was 18, ok?
You can’t win if you don’t try
The fancy dinner that night was where we would be given our prize. I showed up with my parents and so did one other scholarship entrant. A few seconds before they announced the winner, my stomach felt like it was doing backflips. Her and my paper were pretty close in length and our presentations both had bad portions, so I didn’t really know who would win. They announced my name and gave me a giant check for…. TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. Not bad for a high school student with no real work experience or skills yet. I was ecstatic for a second and felt like I could do anything. That’s what wins make you feel like. That’s how I made $300/hr as a high school student. All by writing a research paper.
The kicker? There were only two entrants my year. Ball parking, there were about 8,000 possible entrants in this contest because it was for seniors and juniors (12th and 11th grade, or the last two years before college) in our school district. Out of those 8,000 people, .025 percent entered. Which was fantastical to me, because $20,000 is a lot of money. Our school district wasn’t overtly wealthy or anything. Even if I were overtly wealthy, $20k would still seem like a lot of money. Every school’s guidance counselor made the same announcement to their juniors and seniors. No one else in my school’s class entered.
So, why is that? Maybe it’s the self-defeatist attitude America seems to carry around at times. Why CAN’T you be the winner? If you put in that hard work and effort, you can do it. Enter the contest. Do your best. You won’t win every time. In fact, you’ll probably win a very, very small amount of the time, but if you don’t enter, you will never win. Stop rejecting YOURSELF. The below are all guesses of my adult experience as I didn’t go back and track down every single application, but hopefully it helps.
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My adult track record so far
- I applied to probably 30 colleges. I’d guess an acceptance rate of 65%. I applied to EVERY college in the top 20. Sure, it’s $100 or so per application, but some of those colleges gave out amazing scholarships. I ended up going to a top 10 college for almost free. Worth it? Of course. I’m not going to debate the merits of a “brand” name for college, but there are a lot of opportunities offered if you get the chance.
- 100+ scholarships. Maybe I won 5-10% of them. That was hours and hours of work. Most of it went to “waste” when I didn’t win. But it’s a numbers game. I won some and lost a lot of them. The above was just a lucky one no one else really tried to enter.
- Freshman year, I applied to probably 75 internships. I did not get one interview. NOT ONE. I was pretty depressed but picked myself up and reminded myself there were 3 more years left. I spent half the summer working on campus and taking some extra courses, and the other half I went to a Europe study abroad program. Both were paid for by various scholarships or the university.
- Sophomore year, more applications. Interview rate: maybe 2%. Acceptance rate? 1 place out of maybe 100 applications. It was pretty chill and fun. I think I spent more time trying to automate their processes than actually learning anything. But I got my foot in the industry door and got something to put on my resume.
- Junior year. Went to probably 25 information sessions on campus. Sent out 100+ applications. Networked much more. Ended up getting a 5-8% rate of interviews. Got flown up to NY and Boston for super days (half or full day final round interviews). Got 3 offers, and one of them was my dream internship/job. Took it, spent the summer in NYC. Company paid for summer housing and we got paid as much as first year analysts.
- Senior year – Accepted the offer from the internship I had completed 2 weeks into the school year. I pretty much coasted my senior year and kind of wish I hustled with a start-up or other side-hustle idea. Oh well.
- If you’re still following, my overall acceptance rate is alarmingly abysmal probably. But guess what? That’s what most college students at my school who were aiming for a certain type of job experienced. That’s probably what most adults experience when looking for a job. You’ve GOT to believe in yourself. It’s a numbers game, guys, it truly is. Sometimes, you’re ahead of the curve. Keep going until society believes in you too.
To all the high school and college students out there, you’re going to get rejected. A LOT. Even if you’re extremely talented or skilled. You will absolutely be rejected. It’s fine, it’s a numbers game. Just keep on doing incrementally better.
To all the older people. You’ll still get rejected. A LOT. It’s fine, just keep going. Many things are not your fault.
- HR rep looking at your resume got sick that day? Rejected.
- Other candidate likes sports teams that the department head likes? You’re rejected.
- Job offer not even real, because they already have an internal candidate in mind, but they post it because the government says the company needs to in order to comply with regulations? Rejected.
What is your fault:
- You didn’t apply to all the opportunities you had
- Did you network? Talk with your Alumni?
- Get feedback on your resume? Conduct a mock interview? No? Well, then how can you be better?
- Did you research: The company? The department head? The questions the interviewer will be asking?
Just keep doing incrementally better.
You lose the race when you’re no longer running. It’s truly not about who runs the fastest, it’s about who keeps on running when it gets hard. There’s no reason you can’t win the race. Tell yourself that.
Why not you? Why Not You? WHY NOT YOU?
The only person stopping you from winning is yourself. Get up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and do better. Stop being afraid to fail, you’re going to fail A LOT. Fail harder, and fail more. Because hard work always beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard and the most successful people fail at higher rates, but they also achieve so much more!
If you just get up and START today, you’re winning. Because most people don’t ever start. That blog they wanted to start? Hm, maybe next year. The last few pounds that could be lost with some psychological help? Next New Year’s, I’ve already failed this year. Savings for retirement or financial independence, even if just a simple few steps? In a bit, I like my luxuries too much. That person you want to ask out? Stop waiting for the perfect moment, it doesn’t exist.
Get a win today, by just entering the race. Because SO MANY PEOPLE won’t even show up to the starting line. Don’t be like them!
What are you starting today? Are you giving yourself a chance to fail today? Challenge yourself. You’re more resilient than you think.
*Due to the anonymity of the blog, some details on the scholarship were changed because there is an article on the internet that has my actual name on it. I did not use Queso cheese as my product. The hourly rate on my paper is accurate.