Have you ever found a few simple words so inspiring that they stayed with you forever? May the following story of hope and rejection—and hope fulfilled beyond expectation—lift your spirits just as someone lifted mine, long ago.
The Story of Jack Sanders
One night when I was in my twenties, a few Jaycee buddies and I were standing in a dark parking lot, saying goodbye. We had just wrapped up our monthly dinner meeting.
In case you're not familiar with it, Jaycees stands for 'Junior Chamber of Commerce.' The Grand Rapids (Michigan) chapter, which was a big part of my life, stood as the second largest chapter in the country.
Jack Sanders was our chapter president: a good family man, the kind of leader who couldn't be unkind if he tried. He was also the spitting image of comedian Jon Lovitz—a trait that only endeared him to us all the more.
So back to the dark parking lot. A few of us, including Jack, were talking and laughing about nothing in particular. Finally I turned toward my car. About ten steps later, Jack called out to me, "Don't let anyone steal your dreams."
Where did that come from? I didn't ask. But when someone you admire and look up to hands you a vote of confidence, you treasure it. That night I wrote "Don't let anyone steal your dreams" on my quote board, with Jack's name underneath.
Fast Forward to Last Week
I'm in my office, rummaging through a long-forgotten box of old cards and letters. I come across a couple of brief, handwritten thank-you notes from Jack.
I also come across a (brief, typewritten) rejection letter from Iowa—specifically, the University of Iowa Graduate Department of English. Even now, as I type those words, I stop a moment and smile.
There's no way I could have known in 1997 how much unimaginable good would come from that one closed door.
All I knew was this: I was disappointed, hurt, and embarrassed. I even cried a little. It wasn't so much that I wanted to go to Iowa. But I wanted the option. I wanted the validation of being accepted.
And yes, part of me did want to go—so much so that I took time off work to drive across three states to visit the place. Maybe I would reapply. But there were so many signs that said Don't do it, I took a breath and let it go. Bummer.
Life went on, Iowa faded from memory, and other lessons appeared in Technicolor, including this one from a few summers ago: Hold Your Head High Through the Storm.
From Rejection to Recommendation
There simply isn't room here to recount all the gifts that the Iowa rejection made possible—including a move to San Diego, a master's degree in counseling, a six-year teaching stint at my alma mater, and a life where I get paid to be a listening ear and a voice of encouragement.
There is, however, one more story that brings it all full circle.
Two years ago, one of my star students at the University of San Diego (USD) came to me with a heavy heart. She was standing at a difficult crossroads and needed help discerning her options.
So at her request, the two of us stayed one night after class to talk. We spoke for hours. It turns out she was thinking about applying to doctoral programs. Imagine the mini-lump in my throat when she asked if I would write her a letter of recommendation—to the University of Iowa.
I did so almost immediately, on University of San Diego letterhead.
Cindy got accepted into a program that was even more selective by far than the one I had applied to. (And yes, I did just end that sentence with a preposition. Eat your heart out, Iowa.)
Today my former student is thriving in Iowa City. I smile to think my earlier rejection helped pave the way to her acceptance. Meanwhile, I still get to be a writer. And I get to be me (with all due respect), not some stuffy cartoon version of myself.
Don't let anyone steal your dreams.
Least of all, the University of Iowa or the University of Anywhere. The world needs what you're itching to offer. Put another way, if you want to write, write. If you want to paint, paint. Why wait for permission or perfection?
And if you do get a rejection letter, I encourage you to tuck it away somewhere (unless it's downright toxic). Years from now or even a month from now, it will probably resurface. Let it. Let it also remind you of who you are today and just how far you've come.
P.S. Need a speaker at your next event? Check out the Speaking & Workshops menu on my homepage.
Don't let anyone steal your dreams.
— Gina DeLapa