In 2014, I started the last phase of my academic career—the PhD program. While I was excited to embark upon this new journey there was only one stipulation, I was conditionally admitted into the program! I don’t know if you’ve ever been told or made to believe that you weren’t good enough to do something, but the feeling sucks. In fact, it can be a major blow to your self-esteem if left unchecked and this is definitely true for me.
Being conditionally admitted meant that I was on academic probation the first year of my professional school career. As a result of a low GRE score, the institution felt that I was a possible risk to the university. While they recognized that I had the potential to do great things—evidence from the rest of my application packet—my profile did not check every box on their checklist. Have you ever been given an opportunity with strings attached? How did it make you feel? Did it cause you to grow or shrink back?
I struggled with the reality of my admittance for a long time. In fact, it haunted me for the first 2.5 years of my stay at the school. Why? Because the decision of the school meant to me that I wasn’t good enough. Granted, I wasn’t waitlisted, but by labeling me as something less than, as a risk, caused some trauma to my psyche. There were times when I would compare my seat in the classroom to my classmates’. When I heard them speak, I heard them in a way that “proved” they deserved to be there and I didn’t.
When we adopt or adapt to the labels placed on us by other people it has the potential to have damaging effects. I can attest that my mind started playing tricks on me once I entered the program. I had a lot of self-deprecating thoughts as well. How do I get over this? I mean I’m only on probation for the first year, right? It wasn’t like they completely rejected you like the other 3 schools, right? In fact, the institution half accepted you! Do you know that rejection is rejection no matter how it presents itself? Half acceptance is rejection!
In order to put our reality into the proper perspective, we have to be able to discern the times and the path for our lives. We have to have a strong understanding of our identity and what God called us to do. We have to be able to push through the bad to get to the good. This process is perhaps the most challenging but it is one of the most fruitful.
While I openly rejected their perception of me outwardly, inwardly I believed them. I believed the lie that they offered by placing a conditional label on me. I secretly resolved to prove them wrong, and in seeking to prove something to “the powers that be” I volunteered to play their game. It is important to realize that you cannot seek to “prove” someone wrong without agreeing to play on their turf. While you may reason that you don’t have anything to prove, that is not the truth. Since people thrive on validation and approval—human needs—it is unlikely that you will move on without momentarily internalizing the expectations of others.
For me, there were times when their grouping of my profile into the possible risk category played on my mind. If I can be honest, it hurt to not have the full support of my school. Yes, it was my own fault that I didn’t earn the high score on the GRE, but I worked hard, and there are so many factors to taking that exam. Arguably, I worked harder than some of my peers and I wanted desperately to add to the academic world. But what would that mean for me?
I’ve learned that in trying to prove “them” wrong, I slightly succumbed to their perception of me long before they met me. In essence, I couldn’t seek to prove them wrong because I believed what they said about me. Being rejected admittance from several other schools prior, I was discouraged because it felt that no one believed in me. Let me be clear, I had a steady support group, but the people who were making decisions about me at other schools didn’t believe I was good enough. They judged me not based on my character, but on their needs.
So what door did their decision open up? It opened the door of insecurity—which I was already battling—restlessness, depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. On the outside I worked hard, and I produced a lot of academic work, but on the inside I deteriorated rapidly. The stress of their decision and the demand I placed on myself to prove them wrong worked against me until I learned the valuable lesson about my identity in Christ. I stopped trying to prove them wrong and decided to get into alignment with Christ.
I had to learn that everyone wouldn’t believe in me, and be okay with that reality. I had to willingly accept the road that God designed for me even if it caused me to look weird. More importantly, I had to learn to rely on God in spite of what I saw. God didn’t design me to live based on the approval of man. He didn’t save me to live mediocre. I was challenged to ask myself the hard question, “Whose report will you believe?” I believe the report of the Lord.
When I completed course work, I looked back over my admittance condition and laughed. I laughed because for the first time I achieved my goal of earning straight A’s. It took me to get to this level of schooling, with the odds against me, to live up to my full potential. In retrospect, their labeling was good for me. It challenged me to come from under the opinions of others, and submit my will to the will of God.
Perhaps, being conditionally admitted was the best decision for me because it helped me overcome the feelings of inadequacy.