A Lesson in Rejection

By: Erin Golden ’18

Goldman Sachs receives around 250,000 applications per year for jobs and internships, and only 2% of the original candidate pool will receive an offer. It is considered by many to be the most prestigious company to ever work for because it is a gateway to some sort of better life.
I must admit, I never even gave a second thought to a career in finance. I had vaguely overheard that some of my friends had landed summer internships at Wells Fargo, but, so removed from that world, I just sent a half-hearted congratulatory text and went along with my day.  It wasn’t until I became immersed in a cesspool of business-minded, performance-obsessed, name brand-conscious fiends on my abroad program that I learned about the premature jump one needed to take to enter into a prestigious internship like finance or consulting.  Little did I know that one of my best friends at Davidson had just been offered a JP Morgan internship. Overnight, I ferociously repositioned my life from a kid frolicking around as a typical liberal arts curious learner to being determined to measure my success, intelligence, and identity through the proxy that would be my summer internship.
So when I received the email that Goldman Sachs wanted to arrange to fly me out to their office to interview for an internship I was stunned, and felt like my years of hard work clocking in hours trying to mimic incarceration (which I call studying in Wall) had finally been substantiated. The interview was scheduled for December 12, the day all my finals took place. Unlike Davidson, my abroad program did not operate on an honor code system, and so rescheduling the finals would be forbidden.
I quickly emailed my HR rep to tell them my position: I am in Madrid and have all my finals that day, is there any alternative? Yes! They rescheduled for a Skype interview two days after, December 14th- the day that my parents had paid for a nonrefundable flight home.  Again, I emailed them to re-explain my situation. Shortly after, I received a voicemail which to this day I refuse to erase: “Hi Erin, this is Kaitlyn from Goldman Sachs, I received your email and unfortunately we only make accommodations one time.  We will be withdrawing your application as a candidate. Have a nice day.”
I was numb. This is my mortified confession: When I had received my invitation for my superday I felt as though my future had manifested before my eyes perfectly.  My family, friends, and acquaintances would introduce me or acknowledge me by saying, “This is Erin Golden. She goes to Davidson and will work for Goldman Sachs.” I could envision the wows and the nods of admiration. There was a social currency tied to this name that I wanted so badly. I yearned for the symbolic affirmation that Goldman’s brand name provided, and the more ferociously I coveted this meager LinkedIn post or section on my resume, the faster I developed a fragile ego that leveraged all my accomplishments on this single letdown.  What I did not realize at the time was that when Goldman Sachs said, “jump,” you’re simply to ask, “how high?”
So, I was rejected. I spent nights not being able to sleep–wondering how I let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip through my fingertips. I even had revenge fantasies about becoming so successful that I could go on a talk show and reveal that Goldman Sachs had rejected me so curtly and have their 150-year-old prestigious brand topple to ruins because of me. You know…realistic dreams.
I ended up getting a fine internship at a well-regarded finance firm, and had a great summer, but knew it was not the post-grad trajectory for me. In August, I decided to submit another application to Goldman Sachs quite nonchalantly, keeping my expectations low and still bitter about the existential crisis the rejection had ignited just months before.
In September, I awoke on a Wednesday with an immense amount of déjà vu: an invitation for a Goldman Sachs superday. A week later, I learned I had been extended an offer to Goldman Sachs. I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes. The hopeful, lofty dreams I’d had a year prior about nods and wows of admiration manifested according to plan.  When I began to tell a select few I received the offer they would take a step back–more impressed with me than I had seen in my whole life.  I felt like people did indeed look at me in a different way. The Goldman Sachs way.
About three weeks after my offer, it was now my turn to reject Goldman Sachs. I won’t get into the reasons why, but the more important part of the story was that it took me a whole two weeks of knowing that I was going to turn it down to actually send the email. To my apartment mates and close friends, this humorously went from being called Golden at Goldman to Golden breaks up with Goldman. And it was just that, a messy breakup. My hesitancy did not stem from second-guessing if I had made the right decision about my post-grad career. The trepidation was indeed symbolic, a figment and nothing else. For a whole year I had wanted this job so badly because of rejection and because it symbolically embodied the life I thought I needed to have. It became a defining label, an identity marker like a religion or a political affiliation.
When I told my parents I was having a hard time pressing send on my overly-polished email declining the offer, my dad offered me a piece of fatherly wisdom to “get over my ego.”  In this rare occurrence that I listened and acted in according to filial guidance, I finally pressed send. No sigh of relief, no revenge fantasy finally coming to fruition, and no overwhelming feeling of self-satisfaction. The build-up was indeed merely bombastic without even igniting a fizzle-just evaporation.
I admit this is a superficial story.  If you are going to make any snide comments about the overly privileged rejection I experienced, I give you the green light.  But if you can, look past the story, tear away its context, and focus only on the takeaway: Yes, we all experience degrees of heart-wrenching rejection from jobs, colleges, crushes, and families, but what I would encourage everyone to learn is to not let ego, lofty imagination, and a single decision drive the defining identity in your life.
This piece was initially performed at The Moth Live Thursday event, and is reproduced here with edits for print format.
 
Erin Golden ‘18 is an English major and Economics minor from Los Angeles, California. Contact her at ergolden@davidson.edu.

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