guest blogger- Sierra Gladfelter
I believe that we create our own reality. As individuals, we have incredible power to order the world to reflect our dreams (or disappointments) through our thoughts, words, actions and conviction. But I also believe that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, an act that demands constant acceptance and finding peace with what we are given.
Somehow, I managed to live 24 years without having to confront the conflict in these two beliefs and draw a line where one ends and the other begins.
I had been struggling for months with acceptance. Since December when I submitted applications to nine universities, I waited—feeling utterly powerless—to know about graduate school. The uncertainty was exacerbated by the fact that my partner, Eben, was working in Nepal almost 7,500 miles away. While we both had applied to several schools that had strong programs for each of us or were within an hour of each other, at the end of the day it would come down to where we would be given funding. Both of us tried not to think about the unlikely odds that this would be at the same place.
As acceptance and rejection letters trickled in without any matches, it seemed that the shoots of all our beanstalks were being severed with no ladder to our common dream. The University of Colorado was the last chance for us to be together—and ironically, had been the school we visualized ourselves at from the beginning.
On March 1, 2014 I received an email from my intended advisor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
I regret to inform you that you were not admitted to the program. The official notice from the graduate school should be coming next week, I believe.
With that, my final hope dissolved. I was stunned, my mind streaming though all the things this meant. Eben and I would spend the next two years consumed in programs at different schools sustaining the distance we had been enduring for another four semesters.
But for some reason I could not let go.
The strangest thought suddenly rose—the kind of thought that seems so foreign it must have floated in from a greater mind like dandelion seed drifting from a distant garden.
For another possibility.
And so I inquired if there was any chance of being offered admission contingent upon outside funding. I had applied for a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) through the National Science Foundation, which I would not find out about for another month. Although it was a shot in the dark, if I received the fellowship it would support me at any institution to which I had been admitted with three years of full funding.
I almost collapsed when she wrote back,
We haven’t done this sort of thing before, but I can check with others and definitely consider the possibility.
Later that day, she followed up. I’ll get a letter to you for admission if you get the NSF (or some other funding).
I am a humble person. I would never have had the audacity to ask to be reconsidered for a program from which I had been rejected if something had not moved me so urgently to seek another reality.
Now I had only to wait on the NSF. Even with just a 10% chance of winning, the possibility was enough.
In the meantime, I realized that as I had visited other schools and had such clarifying experiences about the nature of the programs in person, I really should go and see the University of Colorado as well. I would not, however, have more than a couple of days to make a decision once I knew about the fellowship in early April.
So I asked again.
If I do get the NSF GRFP and am able to fully fund myself through the Master’s program, would there be any funding available to help subsidize a flight/visit to see the school?
My advisor wrote back, offering me five hundred dollars.
Rather than waiting, I decided to act. I planned a trip and purchased a flight, recognizing that there was a 90% chance that I would not get the NSF GRFP at all and would have to go through with my visit regardless or swallow the cost.
The morning I flew to Boulder, I woke up to find an email from the NSF sitting in my inbox. I had to open and close several other messages before I could muster enough courage to look.
Dear Sierra Gladfelter:
Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Fellowship.
I was already on my way.
Of course there was surprise and unbridled joy. I called Eben happier than I have ever been in my entire life. But as I flew out to Boulder and had hours to cast my gaze over the world beneath me, my mind wandered back to my old convictions.
How do we know when to accept what is around us or seek something more?
If I have learned anything through this graduate school process and the series of surreal events that followed, it is that dreams do not come true when we leave everything to chance. Of course we can be happy, for that is a power that no one can ever take from us. But the magic happens when we go beyond accepting what is and ask again for another world—brighter and closer to our dreams.
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