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curious_philosopher

On living with your 'second choice'

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I might have to correct myself already, as the title is misleading: technically, when I applied to grad school, I only had a first choice, and all other schools (about 10) were 'fall-back options'. And this might already be my most heartfelt advice I could give to current applicants: don't do it with my attitude. Because if you don't get into that one school, you might never fully stop resenting them for not having admitted you.

The irony is that my first-choice school was much lower ranked than the school I ended up going to. While I was rejected by my first choice, I got into an ivy league (much to my surprise), and so took their offer. At that time, the fact that I had gotten into a higher-ranked school kind of alleviated the pain of not having gotten into my first choice. But let me tell you, even after almost four years in the PhD program in the ivy league school, I cannot pretend that I wouldn't have preferred the other school.

I want to make this clear: This is a very subjective point of view, and it might not be the case for anyone else. And also: I think it was ultimately for the better that I ended up at my current school instead of my first choice. Academically, I've learned about so many new approaches to philosophy that I would not have been confronted with at my first choice. And I would not have lived in this very exciting global city that I live in now, an experience that is worth having in itself. And perhaps it's true that my chances on the job market are better coming from this school instead of from my first choice.

But there is this curious and irrational phenomenon of knowing that this was not my first choice. I was, in some sense, forced to be here as opposed to my first choice, and I know that, despite all the good things, I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been forced to. Do you know the feeling of 'this person looks good on paper, but I just can't fall in love with them'? That's how it feels. I just can't fully fall in love with my current school. And my first choice is a school I had fallen in love with, but was never able to get to know fully. I'll never forget that my current school had always been 'only' my second choice.

The irony is, again, from today's perspective, that I might not be happy if I were at my first choice school. But at least I would have gotten the chance to not love it anymore, to grow wary of it. After a while there, I might have felt the same frustrations that I feel at my current school. But I would have gotten it my way, and the only one to blame would have been me. This way, I can never fully get rid of the feeling that the things that are stupid at my current school (and there are many!) might not be a problem if I had only gotten a chance to go to my first choice.

As I said, I think that being at my current school is on the whole actually better for me than if I had gotten into my first choice. I just want to express this fully irrational feeling about my first choice that never went away. Perhaps someone can relate?

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How are you a philosophy scholar if you can't accept new paths?  Seems a bit odd to me to have such a black and white perspective about graduate school, and to study philosophy.  Admittedly, you said it ended up being worth it.  I will hold no resentment if I don't get into my #1 pick because someone else deserved it more than I did (most likely), or they don't have the resources to train me in my field. 

We all get bummed out about things not going our way, but you have to buck up and move on because if you stay in the past, those negative thoughts are just going to stunt your potential.

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11 minutes ago, Lysdexia said:

How are you a philosophy scholar if you can't accept new paths?  Seems a bit odd to me to have such a black and white perspective about graduate school, and to study philosophy.  Admittedly, you said it ended up being worth it.  I will hold no resentment if I don't get into my #1 pick because someone else deserved it more than I did (most likely), or they don't have the resources to train me in my field. 

We all get bummed out about things not going our way, but you have to buck up and move on because if you stay in the past, those negative thoughts are just going to stunt your potential.

Studying philosophy does not mean that you have a rock-solid control of your thoughts and emotions, or even that you fully understand them.  Maybe I'm alone here but I'm pretty sure OP wasn't saying "woe is me, I'm sad" but was reflecting on how they felt about their school and how their subjective view flavors their feelings and thoughts despite objectively probably being in a better position. Reflection is important, and sharing that reflection can be useful for a lot of people.

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9 hours ago, curious_philosopher said:

But there is this curious and irrational phenomenon of knowing that this was not my first choice.

Give some thought to the possibility that you weren't your new school's first choice either.

 

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2 hours ago, Sigaba said:

Give some thought to the possibility that you weren't your new school's first choice either.

 

Good point (although I was for sure within their first seven choices out of 350, as I was admitted outright, not waitlisted).
And for them to live with me is hardly as big of a life changer for them as for me to move there and live with everything that comes with it.

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I think everyone goes into the application process with a couple of top choices. (I even intentionally told myself I didn't have any just to avoid feeling disappointment later.) But then we get told that to succeed, you need to fully commit to your goal! So we work extra hard on the top choice applications, positive thinking, privately engage in the Secret, prayer, and witchcraft, indulge ourselves in researching the city where our top choice is just to get a feel for it... 

So of course it's disappointing when we don't get it. And I'm willing to be that more people don't get into their top choice than do. 

I think the disappointment can stick with you, because most grad students I know nail their sense of self-worth to their grades, publications, schools, and what their profs think of them. Academics are in an unusual world where validation never seems to come often enough, and when it does come, it never feels enough or lasts long enough. We always are reminding ourselves of ways we're falling short.

I get what you're saying, and I think you're not alone in feeling that way. 

Edited by rheya19
Correction

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31 minutes ago, rheya19 said:

For those who are criticizing the OP, puh-leaze. You've felt disappointment and rejection at some point in your life. Let the OP have this time to get past it.

Unless my reading comprehension is very much failing me, OP has had several years to get past it.

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3 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

Unless my reading comprehension is very much failing me, OP has had several years to get past it.

Thank you for the correction. I re-read the OP, and I did miss that part. I still think it's ok to feel rejected and disappointed that their life didn't go the direction they wanted, and I was trying to express that. 

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33 minutes ago, rheya19 said:

However. That will change. You'll get to your new school, become consumed in studies, make some friends, find a best friend, find a favorite bar or restaurant or park, and ultimately you'll make the best of your opportunities. For all but a very few, the disappointment passes.

Thanks rheya19. Just to note: I've written this from the perspective of someone who has already gotten past the disappointment and gotten into the life of the new school, been here for four years now, ABD, etc. But I think it's a myth that we fully forget about the disappointments in our life, no matter how well we're doing. A small remainder of past and lost 'could-haves' will always be there, if we're honest with ourselves. And that's the spirit in which I wrote it.

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8 minutes ago, curious_philosopher said:

Thanks rheya19. Just to note: I've written this from the perspective of someone who has already gotten past the disappointment and gotten into the life of the new school, been here for four years now, ABD, etc. But I think it's a myth that we fully forget about the disappointments in our life, no matter how well we're doing. A small remainder of past and lost 'could-haves' will always be there, if we're honest with ourselves. And that's the spirit in which I wrote it.

I think I read a more critical reply to your post, and I was all of a sudden defensive for you. Maybe it's also that I finally got the rejection letter from my top choice a few days ago, so I'm still feeling that sting.

I agree with you that disappointments in our life are not always forgotten. For me, the longer I live, the more I wonder how my life might have gone and how much further I might be now if things had been different. 

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56 minutes ago, curious_philosopher said:

Thanks rheya19. Just to note: I've written this from the perspective of someone who has already gotten past the disappointment and gotten into the life of the new school, been here for four years now, ABD, etc. But I think it's a myth that we fully forget about the disappointments in our life, no matter how well we're doing. A small remainder of past and lost 'could-haves' will always be there, if we're honest with ourselves. And that's the spirit in which I wrote it.

Here are my honest thoughts:

1. Many people, including myself, often think of our lives as a story where we are the main character and we get to do the things we want. In reality, while we do possess the ability to influence many factors of our lives, we will all at some point, learn that there are situations where there is nothing we can do about it.

2. When we don't get our #1 choice, we are reminded that we're just one of many people in the world. But this learning process is not necessarily linear. There will be times where we have a very good understanding of our place within the world, and there will be other times where we might forget and revert back to thinking about the what-ifs. That's okay.

3. "Getting over" disappointment is not a binary process, it's not like you're "over" it or not. There are different types of being "over" it and so it's also normal and fine to sometimes think back and wonder what might have been. Even if you feel like you are mostly gotten past the disappointment.

4. Over the last 5 years, I think I have experienced a lot of rejection and know how to handle it most of the time. But sometimes I do get an illogical urge to "prove myself". I admit that in the mix of postdoc applications there were one or two applications sent to schools that didn't have the best fit for me but since they had rejected me for grad school, maybe I just wanted to prove to myself I could get in. At the time of applications, I convinced myself that I was really applying because I thought there was a potential fit, not for these petty reasons, but in hindsight, I think a big chunk of it was me unconsciously trying to "prove myself". Needless to say, I didn't get an offer from any of these applications. Probably should not have wasted the time on petty reasons but I'm not perfect! 

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dude, I'm just happy to have this gig I'm in right now. I was basically shut out by grad schools twice (to this day, I have no idea why), and wasted 2 years of my life in a job that I absolutely hated. It did paid well, and I grew a lot, but not a great deal for me. the third time, I applied to one school, not sure whether I'd get in or not. I hustled around to about 4-5 different professors, to their offices, and one of them gave me a chance. It's not the best group, we struggle with funding, and I'll probably stay here longer than if I were in a different group. But I'm still glad to be here, because I could've ended up like one of those salary slaves. For me, it's not about worrying about getting the best draw of the cards, but more about playing my best hand, and working my ass off to earn what I have.

 

do I think about what if I had gone to a different college where there were more opportunities that are better aligned with my interests, or wish I could have a 4 hour conversation with my 17 year old self? sure. but you live you learn. not all the lessons will come easy.

Edited by spectastic

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I don't understand your thinking.

Your first choice rejected you because you were not the right fit for them.

what happened is for the best. This decision is not all about you but also about being the right fit for a program.

 

my guess is that you're still brooding because you are not really happy with your current school for whatever reason. Maybe try to confront and address that issue instead of distracting your mind with an unchanging past

Edited by buttercup8d

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52 minutes ago, buttercup8d said:

I don't understand your thinking.

Your first choice rejected you because you were not the right fit for them.

what happened is for the best. This decision is not all about you but also about being the right fit for a program.

 

my guess is that you're still brooding because you are not really happy with your current school for whatever reason. Maybe try to confront and address that issue instead of distracting your mind with an unchanging past

This is exactly how I felt with every rejection I received from programs this season. If they didn't feel I was the right fit for them, then they were probably not the right fit for me. I'm also having to deal with not getting an offer at my top due to funding but hey, I received a great offer from a great program who wasn't my top in the beginning but after getting to know the department, I just knew it was the right fit for me. Just gotta keep the faith and know everything works out the way its supposed to, am I right? :P

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I am still waiting for a decision from my first choice and got my 'second choice' offer today. Since my second choice is also an amazing, prestigious uni in an even more amazing city, I would not be too disappointed and I am already accustomed to the thought of living and studying in that city for 2 years. No regrets at all.

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On 3/11/2017 at 1:29 AM, curious_philosopher said:

But there is this curious and irrational phenomenon of knowing that this was not my first choice. I was, in some sense, forced to be here as opposed to my first choice, and I know that, despite all the good things, I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been forced to. Do you know the feeling of 'this person looks good on paper, but I just can't fall in love with them'? That's how it feels. I just can't fully fall in love with my current school. And my first choice is a school I had fallen in love with, but was never able to get to know fully. I'll never forget that my current school had always been 'only' my second choice.

The irony is, again, from today's perspective, that I might not be happy if I were at my first choice school. But at least I would have gotten the chance to not love it anymore, to grow wary of it. After a while there, I might have felt the same frustrations that I feel at my current school. But I would have gotten it my way, and the only one to blame would have been me. This way, I can never fully get rid of the feeling that the things that are stupid at my current school (and there are many!) might not be a problem if I had only gotten a chance to go to my first choice.

As I said, I think that being at my current school is on the whole actually better for me than if I had gotten into my first choice. I just want to express this fully irrational feeling about my first choice that never went away. Perhaps someone can relate?

I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts. In a way, I'm anticipating feeling what you're feeling sometime in the future. However, knowing myself, a lot of it can be attributed to law of diminishing returns and my own critical view at looking at the world. In terms of law of diminishing returns, one month into being accepted, I've already started to lose some of my enthusiasm with getting into a program. I recognize that it has little to do with the program (which was also not my highest choice) and with more of the fact that it's hard for me to maintain contentedness for any period longer than a few days. I know that for myself, however, my enthusiasm for things wane as time goes on and it doesn't help that being in this good program is on my mind 24/7.

Not feeling content with my situation forces me to be much more critical of my current situation that I really should be. And as you highlighted, even after weighing the positives and negatives, we somehow cling to the hypothesis that the grass COULD have been greener on the other side. This is where I've already started to be critical of the program before even entering it: Is this program really going to help me in the job market? Are the professors prestigious enough or is the fact that newer professors in the department means that they're not as established as the other big names like Harvard and Yale? I'm also anticipating problems that graduate students at that program have already expressed to me and I'm sure that I will develop those grievances as well, which I might've avoided had I maybe been accepted to other top schools.

In summary, it's nice to know that there are others asking those same questions and going through this process (which I agree is irrational in a sense).

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