I can’t remember the day I won the top artist award in college.
I know it happened, I know I was thrilled, but I can’t tell you anything specific about that day. Why did the high point of my college career, the culmination of my boyhood dream, vanish from my memory?
Meanwhile the next day is crystal clear. I can tell you exactly where I was sitting in the cafeteria. I sensed something was off because my friends weren’t sitting at our normal table. Had they abandoned me? When I found them I was met with an icy reception. I asked what was wrong and they dodged. Silence.
Finally the pressure valve broke and everything came rushing out. They didn’t think I deserved the award. They questioned the credibility of our professors. They resented me and the university. When their rant was finished they got up and left. I was devastated.
I sat there alone, believing I lost my friends. I lost the honor of my award. I lost the respect of my peers.
Why does ancient rejection feel like a fresh wound while jubilation fades with time like a distant, blurry photograph? It seems cruel that our brains should purge the good stuff and cling to the painful experiences. But that pain, the moments when we are most vulnerable, ripped open by the criticism of people whose opinions we respect the most, these are the lessons that stick with us. Because it is rare to have peers, healthy rivals who push you to do things you couldn’t do alone.
We think the goal is the trophy, the applause of a crowd of strangers who have no idea how much work you put into your craft. The real prize is to be surrounded by people you admire, mentors whose opinion you hold so dear that you hang on their every word. These words resonate, change you, push you to be better, they echo long into the future.
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