Stories from K students, staff, alumni, and faculty

“Where do I start? As a writer, rejection becomes a regular part of your life. But maybe the tale I want to share is this: When I applied for teaching jobs in 1976, I sent out hundreds of letters—individual typed letters then. I got exactly TWO interviews. One was for a job whose description changed at the last minute, so I wound up declining the interview. The other one was at Kalamazoo College. I got the job and took it because I had to support myself somehow. But I felt like a total failure. I didn’t want to be back in my home state; I thought I wanted to teach at a big university; I knew nothing about K. Thirty-five years later, I’m retiring after an immensely rewarding, creative career at a place where I have been extremely proud to work.”

Gail B. Griffin, Ann V. and Donald R. Parfet Distinguished Professor of English Kalamazoo College

“I mainly write short stories and every once in a while I try a novel. I’ve kept records on index cards for almost every one of my submissions to magazines or agents or book publishers, so I can quantify what’s gone on here: over the past twenty five years, I’ve received approximately 793 rejections out of approximately 820 submissions. In other words, my work gets rejected about 97% of the time. Between 2000 and 2006, my book of short stories alone was rejected 95 times by agents and publishers before it was finally accepted. My record for a single short story is 50 rejections over 17 years. Then one afternoon, I sent out the story for a fifty-first time to an editor by email and within an hour I got a reply saying he was going to publish the story and pay me $500. So how do I deal with all of that rejection? Whenever I feel the slightest twinge of self-doubt or anxiety, I turn to drugs and alcohol, and they have served me well. I know that no one wants to hear this, especially during a community reflection sponsored by the counseling center, but it’s the truth. Always run from your problems, because if you run fast enough, they’ll never catch up to you.

No, the weird thing is, the first time I had a short story rejected, it made me happy. I had started to take writing seriously my first year out of college. I had deferred law school for a year, and I was working as a clerk at a bank, processing transactions for trust accounts, watching millions of dollars of other people’s money go by, all day. I was thinking I would rather try to be a writer than a lawyer but I wasn’t sure about it, so the stakes seemed pretty high when I started sending out my first short story. But when I received my first rejection, I was strangely calm, even sort of pleased with myself. And it wasn’t just because I had addressed the return envelope correctly or affixed the right postage, though that was certainly part of it, because these successful actions were obvious fruits of my college education, but it was, I think now, simply because I was doing what I wanted to do, and some magazine editor with an impersonal pre-printed rejection form, which would have been the same had I submitted a book report on house cats written in crayon, agreed that I was doing what I wanted to do, however badly I was doing it.” 

 —Dr. Andrew Mozina, Associate Professor of English, Kalamazoo College

Both my husband and I lost our jobs within six months of each other in 2010-11. Neither one of us had lost jobs in the 30 or so years we’d been employed since college, so it was new territory. I’m thankful I have a husband who saw what was coming in 2008 and started socking money away in case the economy took a bad turn. Last year I was hired by Kalamazoo College and my husband by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The ironic thing — K was my launching point in 1982 when I graduated — the Michigan DEQ/DNR was my husband’s first job out of college (Lake Superior State). So we’ve both gone back to our roots and we are happy to be there. – Anne Noble, Advancement Communications Specialist at Kalamazoo College

I have a story about how multiple rejections led to a great opportunity down the road. In the winter/spring of my freshman year I applied to both a legal internship and externship for the coming summer. I had not adequately prepared for the phone interview for the externship and was subsequently rejected. I also discovered the internship quite close to the application deadline and did not put the right amount of time into the application, causing me to also be rejected from this opportunity. 

Though this was quite disappointing, I went ahead and applied for and was accepted to an externship with alum Sanford Schulman. Mr. Schulman’s externship was a great experience that summer. Furthermore, when I began working as a Career Associate the following year, I was able to help coordinate applicants for Mr. Schulman’s externship for the following summer. 

In the end, though the rejections were quite disappointing, they allowed me to engage in long-term and rewarding opportunity. – Ben Ensroth K ’12

I have a story from the study abroad side of things. Traveling to Europe has always been a dream of mine, so what better way to pursue that dream than to live in Scotland for a while? As I worked on my application, I thought I had it made: great GPA, good references, and carefully-crafted cover letter. “I want to write in the heathery hills,” I told them. When my best friend asked about my chances, I said, “Oh, I know I’m going to get in.” My family anticipated my success, too. A big set of luggage waited for me under the Christmas tree. My grandmother even got me red flannel pajamas, a hopeful nod to my Scottish heritage.I still remember checking my mailbox for the acceptance letter. Stuffed inside it was that telltale manilla envelope. As I opened it, I tried to make myself cry happy tears–this was a big moment! I was going abroad! I was pursuing the dream! I was–rejected? 

I couldn’t believe it. Neither could anybody else I told–friends, advisors, family. My luggage got stowed away in the closet, pajamas stuffed in a bottom dresser drawer. I felt numb for days. In times like that, everyone tries to be full of encouragement. It’s for the best, they say. Someday, you’ll be glad this didn’t happen. And–my least favorite–maybe you’ll meet somebody instead! 

Know what’s funny? The Polyannas were right. Things did turn out for the best. Instead of going abroad, I moved off-campus and forged some of the most important friendships of my life. I wrote a SIP that had a tremendous impact on my career and was a great personal accomplishment. Rejection gave me time to enjoy the wonderful community that is Kalamazoo College. I cherish that. Oh, and you know what else? I did meet somebody. We’ve been married for almost a year now, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything…not even a semester spent in the heathery hills.Here’s what we’ve learned – family, health and happiness are number one; keep socking money away in the rainy day fund; keep throwing that resume out there and you will be employed — even if you’re in your 50s; it’s not easy, but you have to keep trying – the economy stinks and you might not be hired back at the level you left – but it’s a job; you don’t need a six-figure income to be happy.  – Elyse Buffenbarger, K ’10

“When my husband and I first moved to Kalamazoo in 1982, I began work on my master’s degree at WMU and got a part-time job on the fitness staff at West Hills Racquetball and Fitness Club. While I was there, the Fitness Director took a leave of absence and they offered the job to me on an interim basis while I finished up my degree. Well, I thought all was going okay until the owner called me into his office and said that they were going “in another direction” and that they would no longer be needing my services. Whew. I had never before been let go from anything. Plus I was pregnant with our first baby, so I decided that I would just coach volleyball part-time at Kalamazoo College (the job was still part-time back then) and be a stay-at-home mom. Well, if I hadn’t been let go, my career would have taken a different direction and I never would have been available for this position when Tish Loveless retired in 1986. I look back on that moment of grief, loss, and despair now with gratitude, because I was led on a different path toward Kalamazoo College, and I simply cannot imagine my life without this place!” – Jeanne Hess, Professor and Chair, Physical Education Department, Volleyball Coach, Kalamazoo College

“I believe that I have failed almost as much as I have succeeded but I always strive to learn from all of my experiences so that I can reinforce the good behaviors/decisions and minimize or eliminate the bad ones.

You must be prepared when opportunity knocks. Preparation is not just about getting a great education; it also involves having the right frame of mind.  When you are faced with a failure/rejection, you can give yourself 5 minutes to cry about it and then you must go to work.  You MUST take action!  You can’t control the situation, person or things around you but you can control your actions and behaviors.  Failure in the moment does not define you and is not a predictor of your future success.  That said, failure is IMPORTANT for future growth!  It takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do something different.  If you want a different result, you must do something different.  I am not worried about whether you will fail…you will at some point…everyone does…I am worried about your RESPONSE to the failure.  When I lost my six month internship in my junior year, I cried for 5 minutes and then I got to work.  With tears in my eyes and dripping down my face, I opened the Yellow Pages and starting calling every business that I recognized and asked if they had internship opportunities. I got up immediately and took action.  Looking back on that moment, it was a defining point in my life and in my character. I proved to myself that failure would not define me and that I was in control of my life.  Others will sense that determination and they, along with the universe, will conspire in your favor. I worked with CCPD office and they helped me secure another position in Kalamazoo at an advertising agency. Although it wasn’t my ideal position, I worked hard and was determined to make a positive impression.  Even though my GM internship fell through, I kept in touch with the hiring manager and the Assistant Dir of the CCPD and shared stories of my success at my other internship (Bragging!). The Asst Dir kept lobbying for me and when an internship opportunity popped up in Detroit, he called me.  I received the call from GM about 1 month later and they wanted me for  that internship— it was better than the original opportunity that I had lost and is was located at the GM Headquarters!!!   Sometimes, things don’t work out as we plan…they can work out even better!!!

In closing, I want you all to Keep Moving, Keep Moving, Always Take Action and Reach Out to those who can help you.  We all fall in our lives.  I hope that when you do fall, you fall forward…then Get Up!!!! – Michelle Fanroy