Thursday, February 27, 2014

I know it's a no, but I don't know why

When tragedy happens repeatedly at short intervals, following the same pattern, it becomes comical.

I had applied for a position, and last week, I received an email asking me to log in to their website and find their decision. Hastily, between palpitating heartbeats, cold, sweaty palms, and forgotten passwords, I managed to log in and find their verdict. In their decision, they rejected me. I felt hurt. I knew that it was a competitive position. Like most rejections in life, committees never tell you why they rejected you, although they assure you that they took the time to go through your application. Constructive criticism is often not valued, either from the sender, or by the receiver. Rather than reading about how sorry they are to reject me (which is about their feelings, not mine), I'd rather get to the point and know the reason, because that will bring a sense of closure, and give me perspective. Anyway, I moved on with life. 

This was last week. Earlier this week, they emailed me to say the same thing again, basically spelled out the same decision word by word, in an email now. And today, they sent out another email saying that there was some error in the subject line of the last email (which I hadn't even noticed), so they are sending me another email with the corrected subject line, and with the same decision.

The third time, I burst out laughing. Because you do not need to tell someone "no" three times before you get your point across. And because they could have saved themselves all this wasted time and energy, and just enclosed a one-line truth about why it was rejected, without rehashing again and again how sorry they are. Something about all this was really disturbing. There was no dignity in the way they were rejecting me again and again, although I had accepted their decision with dignity.

This incident once again took me back to my philosophy, unconventional for some, where I always want to know why someone said no. Once I emotionally detach myself from the rejection, I always wonder what people were thinking when they made their decisions. Everyone puts in a lot of time and energy and expectations into their application, or in anything they pursue. I understand that one cannot be accepted all the time. However, if one has really evaluated my application, like they said they did, all it takes is sixty seconds to write down the reason.

“We found someone better than you.”

“Your statistical skills or background is not strong enough.”

“We do not wish to sponsor a visa.”

“We are afraid that you may not have what it takes to do the job.”

Just one line of truth.

And the same thing translates to relationships. It has always disturbed me that people just leave, just grow distant over time. But that one line of truth not only brings closure, it does good to both people involved. Sometimes, we need to hear the truth ourselves, before we can tell others. A long lifetime ago, there was someone I really liked, and enjoyed hanging out with. I assume he enjoyed my company too, given the telltale signs. So instead of playing mental games, strategizing, and thinking of everything I should or should not do because I am a girl, I asked him out. Plain and simple. And he said no. However, we remained friends, we still are, and till date, I have not asked him why he said no. At that time, it broke my heart, not knowing the reason. I thought that we made a very compatible pair, and I was just asking him out, wanting to know him more, without the expectation of a commitment. I spent months feeling terrible about it, until I traveled to California, hiked the Channel Islands on my own, spent a day by myself, and forced a closure to it. I still believe that giving a reason would have made things easier for me.

“You are too tall for me.”

“I did not feel the chemistry.”

“I am a vegetarian. You are not.”

“I only date Russian girls.”

Just one line of truth.

On a different note, I am so trained to distinguish a yes from a no these days that I can open a letter, read the first line, and tell you their decision. When you get accepted somewhere, at a university, conference, or a journal, their first word is “Congratulations!”. They never waste time to let you know that you have been chosen, and they cannot wait to meet you. However, when it is a no, the letter starts with three lines of summarizing how wonderful you are, and how competitive the program is, and how they can only admit a small number of people. They paint such an image of helplessness that it will twist your heart, and make you feel guilty that you applied in the first place. On the second half of the fourth line, they will tell you a no (Although you are so good, we cannot admit you unfortunately). Why not cut the first three and a half sentences and just write their decision? After the fourth sentence comes five more sentences, wishing me all the best and thanking me for applying. So really, they wrote an entire nine lines without giving me any idea about why they just said no.

And I haven’t even mentioned the universities which never respond back. You know that you did not make it because they never reply back. They imitate life in a warzone, where there are no guarantees. With all my job hunting experiences over the years, I know that most places do not bother to inform you if their decision is no. And what’s wrong with this situation? Well, just because you did not qualify for this one does not mean that you will never be able to work in that school. Thirty years from now, you might be the dean of the same school. The point is, life is shorter than we think, and somehow, we go in circles, meeting the same people from the same network again and again. So even if someone thinks that you do not deserve the job, there is nothing wrong in being frank, and amicable about it.

Honesty is hard. Saying things for what they are on your face is harder. It is often easier to hide behind kind, clichéd words, that still mean the same thing. That you were not good enough. That the answer is a no.



CYNOSURE said...

Well...I don't know what to say...but I completely agree with each and everything that you said...experinced a few already ;)

kulls said...

Wonderful blog.. To the point and informative.

Thank you.

VM said...

Couldn't agree more...I keep going through the same process every few years

RS said...

i completely agree with that part. i have had many experiences were people don't even say no. from personal experiences, the people from the villages, rural background, old people, people who are financially backward - they are all frank. they will tell you right on your face what they think. it is only these sophisticated, modern, city based folks who find it difficult to say what they think in many situations.

Uma said...

Well a rejection always hurts and i totally agree that if you know the reason it helps....I have had the same feeling when i asked a guy out and he said no. He gave a big lecture about future, wished me luck etc but never came to the point as in the exact reason for rejection :) Have always loved your blogs because they are so real and true to life :) ...keep writing such life stories..

Pooh said...

To be honest, i am the exact opposite. For me, if the answer is a no, most of the time i'd rather not get into the why's and what's. I figure that whatever the reason is,there is nothing i can do about it so why get into the details and torture myself. I prefer to accept it with dignity, assume that it is for some reason that is not my fault and move on. So i guess people are really different and there is no right or wrong way to handle this.

sunshine said...

Pooh, in a professional setting, the reason for a no will give me feedback to better myself in my next application. In general, it also gives me information about how people make sense of the world and make decisions.