Opinion: The art of the ‘free swing’- navigating the prospect of failure

Will Lieber, Business Manager

Credit: Canva

Throughout life, most people have to apply for something: jobs, colleges and scholarships for teenagers, and grants, promotions and project proposals for adults. Applications are a part of life. In a country fueled by competition, this is how selection occurs.

My dad always tells me that if you have a chance to apply for something you want, like a job, you should. He calls it a free swing. If you have an opportunity, why not take it? In comparison with the reward of achieving a job, the cost to apply is minimal. If you swing, you might connect. If you don’t, you will never hit the ball. He advises me to take all the swings I can get, because even one connection can be extremely beneficial.

I agree with this philosophy and I employ it in my life. When it comes to college applications, jobs, internships or scholarships, I take all the swings I can get. The time and effort it takes to apply is worth it, even if you don’t succeed every time. Every opportunity you don’t apply for, you miss.

Although the free swing philosophy has value, there is another aspect to it that is a bit more nuanced–when swinging often, you have to wrestle with repeated and even nonsensical misses. In other words, you have to deal with rejection over and over again. The more ambitious and frequent your swings, the more rejection you will suffer.

The logical train of thought when embracing this mindset is to step up to the plate, swing, and if you miss, quickly forget the result. Cultivate an intentionally short memory that prevents that stream of rejections from getting to you. I know that when I am taking all the swings I can get, I am bound to miss some. But this does not negate that sinking feeling I receive when observing yet another rejection in my application portal, or another email beginning with “Though your resume and accomplishments are notable…”. 

Especially when a particular pitch is extra important to me, or I repeatedly struggle to make a fundamental leap in my career, I can’t help but wonder what is holding me back from success. I am already my toughest critic, and when nothing seems wrong with my application, I question what more I can do to improve.

The trap this repeated rejection can lead to reminds me of learned helplessness. A child who repeatedly performs poorly on exams, even after studying, begins to believe that nothing they do matters. They begin to credit their struggles to an outside source, and resign themselves to this perceived lack of control by no longer studying. They keep failing their exams and become the realization of their own prophecy. Through their seemingly unchangeable failure, they take on a sense of helplessness.

Learned helplessness is a trap–it is a mindset that will keep you from succeeding. Sometimes it is important to grieve failure, but after that, the journey forward must continue if your goal is to be realized. One step to avoid learned helplessness is simply observing its logical fallacy. Though external factors could be influencing your application, they likely aren’t. At the end of the day, the only thing you can control is your actions. If you can volunteer to gain experience, revise your writing further, or build your resume more, you should because these are things we have control over. Don’t waste your time and energy worrying about uncontrollable outcomes.

When dealing with rejection, I think it’s important to acknowledge your own intrinsic worth. You are not defined by one, twenty, or even hundreds of rejections. Remember who you are–an intelligent human being worth far more than what employers or schools could ever judge through a measly application. Never let them define your worth.

Although rejection pushes us towards frustration with ourselves and the systems we apply for, we must remember that we cannot revert to the thinking that nothing we do matters. It may seem as if there is no more room for improvement, but in a world of free swings, this is the only mindset that represents a true loss. Rejection hurts, but we must keep putting one foot in front of the other. Do what you can to improve. Keep your chin up. And keep swinging.