Learning to embrace the power of rejection

Sarah Ordway, co-opinions editor

I was the worst player on my middle school soccer team.

In fact, whenever our team was winning by enough points, our coach made a rule: nobody was allowed to score except for me.

From my own impressions, my coach seemed to think that I was generally unimpressive and just a waste of space on the team. Every time he looked disappointed when I let a ball get by me, I wanted to find a way to prove his underestimations wrong.

Later that year, I was in the musical and the talent show. I remember what my coach said to me afterward.

“I knew you from soccer, of course, but I was so impressed by your performance in the musical,” he said. “I see the Glenbrook Musical every year, and when I go next year, I can’t wait to watch you starring in it.”

I felt so poetically vindicated from feeling underestimated. My freshman year, when soccer tryouts and musical auditions were in the same week, I knew which one I wanted to do, and I couldn’t wait to make that exact moment my coach had referenced happen.

I rehearsed my audition for Mamma Mia like crazy. I practiced the “Voulez-vous” audition dance over and over again in my basement, and I went over the singing sections with my vocal teacher until I knew everything was perfect.

Then I was cut.

I had come to terms with not having lines. However, perhaps egotistically, I had not come to terms with the possibility of just being cut altogether. Worst of all, now I had also missed soccer tryouts.

In that moment, I felt like I had let not just myself but everyone down. I could not help but picture that coach going to see Mamma Mia checking the program for my name, and then realizing that maybe he was right when he concluded that I was the only one talentless enough to have permission to score in a slaughter-rule situation.

After splitting my time for years between the musical and soccer, I seemed to fall on my face at the first chance I got. I was known for being an athlete and a performer, and suddenly, I was not either.

Suddenly, I had more spare time than I knew what to do with. I figured that the least I could do was attend another Model UN conference and finally email The Oracle sponsor about joining. I still balanced these two new activities with my fair share of sulking.

The extra time I devoted ended up paying off. I found two things that I was actually really passionate and excited about, and I ended up seeing where these other opportunities could take me.

Retrospectively, being cut from Mamma Mia was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I was never going to be a good athlete or performer, but the other clubs that I  joined have had profound impacts, not just on my experience at South, but on who I want to be upon graduation.

Earlier this month, I noticed someone familiar-looking standing next to me at Starbucks. I looked a little more closely and immediately froze; it was my old soccer coach.

I hadn’t thought about him in years, but I immediately was flooded back with that feeling of insecurity — of having people disappointed in me — which I had not felt since the Mamma Mia cast list came out. I contemplated whether or not to say anything. Was he going to ask me about soccer? Or, even worse, was he going to ask me about the musical? And why hadn’t I been in it the past few years?

I nervously said hello.

He turned around, looking more than a little bit confused.

Our conversation lasted 20 seconds, but it became clear to me instantly: he did not have a clue who I was. He certainly did not have any recollection of anything he said at the talent show.

Walking back to my car, I realized just how much energy I spent my first two years of high school picturing him, and the general audience I felt he represented, being disappointed that I couldn’t hack it in the “high school version” of so many of my former activities. And, after all of that anguish, he had to make a halfhearted attempt at making me believe he “couldn’t believe he had forgotten my name.”

I care a lot about what other people think of me, as I’m sure most people do. I spent a lot of time feeling like I let people down, but I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be. The weight of other people’s expectations was largely of my own construction, and it took seeing my confused coach’s face to realize that. Before “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, you need to learn how to walk in your own; there is no shame if yours take a little longer to break in than others.

Starting a new phase in my life, I’m assuming that I will have to go through this process of failure, then success, then even more failure all over again. I am trying to be as ready for that as possible, and I am trying to embrace this period of relearning who I am. There is always time to redirect and redefine regardless of what anyone else may or may not think.

So, to finish my final Oracle column ever, I would like to end with special dedication to those in charge of casting the musical.

Thank you for cutting me from Mamma Mia; I would have made a terrible Sophie.