Up until last week, disappointment and rejection were two feelings that I had never really thought about my daughter experiencing—at least not at the age of eleven. I’m not talking about small disappointments, like the time she didn’t get the present she had been dreaming about, or the rejection of not being invited to a classmate’s birthday party. These feelings—as painful as they were at the time—were fleeting and soon forgotten.
This time was different.
I was in an all-day meeting at the office, intently listening to a colleague discussing the requirements for a new product, when I felt my phone vibrate letting me know that I had just received an email. When I saw that it was from my daughter’s dance school with the subject “Company Auditions,” I actually felt my heart skip a beat. Two months earlier, my daughter had auditioned for the company, and was told that she’d be notified later in the summer of the results. I knew that she wanted to be in this company more than anything, not because she dreams of being a dancer, but because of the accomplishment of getting in, along with the chance to compete. For the last few days, she had been persistently asking me if I had gotten a call from them. Now, in the split-second it took me to open the email, I had two distinct visions. The first was of me telling her that she had gotten in, maybe I’d wait and do it at dinner—she would be so excited. However, the second vision—the one of me telling her she didn’t make it—made me quickly scan the email to finally know the outcome.
She didn’t get in.
I told her as soon as I picked her up from the pool that evening. I couldn’t wait, there was no opportune time, and the burden of knowing was too much for me to bear. She was stunned—even questioning if it were a joke—and then the tears started. She ran to her room as soon as we were home, and I could hear her sobbing through her tightly closed door. When I finally ventured into her room, she declared that she wanted to quit dancing. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I just stood there, quietly telling her how sorry I was.
She turned on me in a flash of anger, and snapped, “How would you know how it feels?” I stopped short at the harshness in her voice. I was struck with the sudden memories of the disappointments I have experienced in my life: at fourteen, being rejected by the art program at my high school, even though I viewed myself as an “artist”; at twenty-eight, not getting promoted after years of working for the advancement; or, at sixteen, the rejection I felt when a close friend ended our friendship without warning or explanation. But these were not the experiences of an eleven year-old, and maybe I was somehow better equipped to handle disappointment as a teenager and young adult than she is now. In that moment, I struggled to find the right words to say because all I wanted was to fix it—to call the dance school to ask if there had been a mistake or to somehow make them change their minds—I wanted to take her pain away.
But I knew that I couldn’t.
So, in the end, I do what I always do—I try to use logic to help her figure out how to navigate her own life. I know my daughter, she is fiercely competitive, both with others, but even more so with herself. She feels compelled to be the best at everything she does, and up until this point she had been successful in the one area she had always strived—school. So, that’s what I decided to use to get through to her. I told her to think about what she would do if she had been working hard in a class but wasn’t able to get an A. I told her that she would have gone to the teacher to find out what she could be doing to improve, and then she would have worked even harder. I could see her thinking as I described this scenario, so I continued on, attempting to make the connection for her. I told her that the same should be true with dance. There must be something that the dance instructors thought she should be working on—so I suggested that she talk to them, find out what it is, and then work on it. She didn’t interrupt me as I spoke, and I noticed that her tears had stopped—she appeared to be listening. When I had finished talking, I didn’t ask her to respond, but instead left her alone to think—I was also afraid if I kept talking I would push my luck and say something that would start the crying all over again.
A little while later, she finally emerged from her room, still a bit sad around the eyes, but with a look of determination about her. The first thing she said to me was “Instead of taking three dance classes next year—can I take four?” Without thinking about all the potential downfalls of this question—the added expense, my own busy schedule, and the amount of time she will be investing in this—I smiled and told her “Okay.”
My advice for my daughter is to always remember this moment in her life. So many people give up when faced with setbacks, disappointments, and rejection—but she didn’t. She had a choice, and she chose to try again. I hope that the pride I have for her can be felt through these words I write—and I hope, too, that I will always remember to never give up.