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Front Line Staff / Staff Leadership and Management / Storytellers

The Five Stages of Post Application Rejection Syndrome

application

On May 3, the California Department of Education posted its “Intent to Award” list for Cohort 7 of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Programs, and like many of my colleagues, I was disappointed to learn that none of the applications I had helped to prepare were on it. Having spent the last few years working as an intermediary, it had been some time since I’d had a personal stake in an application process, and I had forgotten how painful failure can be.

As with any loss, during the last month I have experienced, in some small way, each of the five stages of grief – a phenomenon I will call “Post Application Rejection Syndrome” or PARS for short.

Denial

When I initially saw the posted list, my first thought was, “There must be some kind of mistake.” One of my colleagues called me and pleaded, “Tell me this is just a partial list!” We immediately began to speculate the reasons why this obviously incomplete list of intended grantees had been posted prematurely. Perhaps these were just the successful renewal applications and the new grantees would be added later. Maybe they reserved half of the funding to settle the appeals. “Don’t panic,” I thought, “This can’t possibly be the final result.”

Anger

When we began to receive our reader scores and comments the second stage of PARS kicked in. I wanted to track down Reader #287 and carefully explain how utterly unqualified he/she was to evaluate the thoroughness of…well, anything! All across the state after-school administrators became conspiracy theorists: “What is going on with this pro-Sacramento bias?!” “How can LAUSD get all of the high school money every year?!” “Why does the CDE hate San Diego?!” The incessant need to engage in fact finding during this stage only makes it worse: “That school barely meets the Title I threshold! How can they be on the list? Unfair! Unfair! Unfair!!”

Bargaining

This stage of PARS is also known as the appeals process. Unsuccessful applicants appease their anger by righteously questioning the sanity of the readers, identifying inconsistencies in the comments, and generally condemning the fidelity of the entire system. This is a necessary, but a fruitless enterprise which only serves to delay the inevitable for a few more weeks. I have learned that it is usually better to continue moving forward through the grieving process than attach any unrealistic hope to an appeal that will only result in a replay of step two.

Depression

As the reality of the failure finally sinks in, stage four of PARS takes over. Last week, as I was meeting with a potential partner to discuss a Cohort 8 application, I thought, “What’s the point?” I actually found myself dreading the prospect of throwing my hat into the ring again. My prognosis for the coming year became morose: “There’s more money expiring in Cohort 5 than they have available for Cohort 8. They won’t even be able to sustain the programs they have. Why even bother to submit a new application?” During this stage of PARS, it is advisable to consider taking a week off if you can manage it.

Acceptance

Yesterday, I finally put my stack of Cohort 7 applications in the filing cabinet. Since January, when they were originally submitted, they have been proudly displayed on the credenza behind my desk (next to family photographs), more out of affection than for ease of reference. I dedicated months of my life to their preparation and, to me, they were all beautiful. It hurts when someone tells you that another baby is prettier than yours, but that doesn’t make you want to stop having them. As I write this little essay, I realize that I am almost ready to try again.

So, to those Cohort 7 applicants who made the list, congratulations! My hatred for you has dissipated. We’ll see you at next year’s readers’ conference. And to those who are still in the latter stages of PARS, my heart goes out to you, but we’ll get through it. After all, nobody died.

For breakfast, along with my daily slice of humble pie, I had an English muffin and black coffee.

Author Profile: @steveamick

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