Personal, Sunday Musings

Getting rejected is harsh. But it’s also not all bad.

I’ve been rejected in all manner of ways. Here are some recent ways:

-Jobs I’d applied to rejecting me after months and months of radio silence. (I was rejected by a good 15-20 jobs before even getting shortlisted for interviews this year)
-Papers I’d been working on for months on end getting rejected by the only journals I wanted to publish in. (May not seem like a big deal to most people, but publishing is essential in my chosen career)
-Visa issues that felt a lot like being rejected or shunned by the state for being an outsider.

I won’t even get into the more personal stuff. I’m sure you’ll have plenty examples of your own. It stings, right?

But why is rejection so upsetting, humiliating, demoralising? Is it because we didn’t get what we wanted? Is it because we focused all our time and energy into something only to get ‘nothing’ in return? Is it because rejection tells us something about our flaws? That we just aren’t up to standard?

Perhaps. But there’s a couple of things I’ve taken from the experience of rejection which I suppose have allowed me to not see it as the most terrible possible thing to happen to me.

First thing to get out of the way – it’s important to remember that whether you did or did not do something to warrant rejection, rejection is in a way not up to us in the first place. Call it a case of bad luck or undesired luck if you will. The negative aspect of this is that no matter how hard you work, difficult circumstances beyond your control can render the fruits of your labour moot (hello, Covid-19). Even the most competent person is not immune to bad luck, which may seem to us like something of an injustice. The nasty side of this is that it can make us bitter – if our hard work doesn’t pay off because of some seemingly arbitrary thing, why bother? And this resignation self-perpetuates – it seems to us we are stuck in a cycle of bad luck, so we are stuck in it.

But the possible bright side to this, and the thing we tend to forget, is that nobody is immune to good luck either. We probably tend to underplay this latter fact for a couple of reasons: firstly, because we like to think we are always responsible, rather than merely lucky, for the good things that happen to us; secondly, because success that is mostly a result of good luck doesn’t seem praiseworthy or anything to boast about – it may seem distasteful, for example, to be proud of something you achieved not because of a special talent but rather due to a fortuitous series of events. But look – I think a good thing just is a good thing first of all, and we have a sense of what that means to us, and whether the good thing is good in a morally praiseworthy fashion is something further we can think about.

The thing is, we make our choices, but we are partially just vehicles of Fortune. This means that if we are at risk of getting the bad end of a deal, we are often not to blame at all for it. And it means that even when we get the good end of a deal, it might not seem praiseworthy that we get it. I must say I am personally guilty of reading my good and bad luck in extreme ways – if something bad happens I tend to blame myself entirely for it, and when something good happens I tend to dismiss it as a fluke or a freak accident (I often narrativise my successes as “miracles”, for instance).

But we needn’t dwell on these implications too much. We are partially responsible for some things, and partially not responsible for others. What we should take away from this is that we are at the very least not fully to blame for the bad (or good!) things that come our way, so our tendencies to obsess over our own competence or lack thereof is just that – a kind of obsession. Luck will laugh in everyone’s face – both at the person who lacks the confidence to trust that rejection is not entirely their fault, and at the person who is so arrogant they believe they deserved not to get rejected. Luck can align with us when we least expect it, and be nowhere to be found when we need it the most. So I think it’s sensible to take up the spirit of luck, so to speak, when reflecting on things like rejection, which can seem so visceral and personal to us.

Having said all this, I want to go through how I would manage rejection. The first thing is that, well, rejection is just a rejection. It’s not The Rejection. The latter is just what it feels like sometimes. But we ought to resist the idea that it’s the final word. The world we live in is finite, but not static – nothing is forever, and neither is whatever “bad thing” you think gets compounded, sealed, and locked into fate by rejection. This is because either you, or the world, can and will change. And that change can happen in surprising and unexpected ways. Moreover, we just can’t anticipate all the ways that we, or the world, might change – that mystery is the beauty and hope of it!

For every time we see a lost opportunity as a “failure”, we could also narrativise it as a different kind of opportunity – an opportunity to learn, adjust, practice, become open to alternatives, and also redirect what we value and how we value things. It really sucks not to get the thing you thought your heart was set on. But your value as a person, and your future outcomes, don’t necessarily hinge on that one opportunity on which you psychologically staked your entire life’s worth – they rarely do.

The glamour associated with not being rejected is actually overstated as well. There’s a lot we can gain from rejection if we can get past the pain. We can, for example, find out where we are going ‘wrong’, by taking feedback seriously. This can be a good thing – there’s something humble and unselfish about the act of taking other people’s opinion’s into account and really caring about it (regardless of whether they are right or wrong). So if a rejection can help cultivate opportunities for us to exercise that kind of humility, all the better for our sensitivity and attentiveness to our effect on others, and others’ perception of us. I mean, we are probably more impervious to other people’s opinions and too stubborn about our own than we’d like to admit. I know it seems sexy to embody a persona that is immune to other people’s opinions and to be able to say that you got where you are today despite all the naysayers. And I understand that the world is full of bullshit and that it’s hard to filter out the fluff. But maybe if five, ten different people are giving you similar feedback, which form the basis of some kind of ‘rejection’, perhaps we should really start thinking about what we might do differently the next time, and that it’s a good thing somebody pointed it out to us. I actually have a personal example of a teacher who was honest enough to tell me why my work wasn’t up to par, but at the time I just didn’t want to hear it and only took away the feeling of resentment towards them. Looking back, I can see that they were totally right, and that if I could only get past the injury to my ego, their criticisms would actually have helped better prepare me for future projects important to me.

We can also learn about the gap between our skills and abilities and what the world wants from them. Often a rejection tells us something about that gap, rather than anything about our qualities. For example, if I can’t find a job as an English teacher in an English-speaking country, what that tells me is that the particular environment in which I am looking to exercise my skills is not particularly accommodating for what I have to offer, not that there is something actually wrong with my skills. There is just a gap between what I can do vs. what the world wants from what I can do. Perhaps that gap between what I have to offer and what the world is like will change if I move to a locality that isn’t saturated with English-speakers. How our abilities get valued is variable and relative to particularised contexts – we don’t live in a vacuum where our abilities have exactly X value. Covid-19 makes that point salient: because the world right now is focused on getting a newly spreading virus under control, how different industries and people’s skills get valued has shifted radically in the meantime. And it will continue to change as the states of affairs in the world evolves further.

As a person with an “arts and humanities” background, I get that it’s scary. I was already living in a world where what I do is maybe not considered universally valuable, and I’d been prepared for the worst. When I finished my PhD, I knew that I had a mountain of obstacles ahead of me and that I’d have to accept the countless ‘No’s coming my way. The point is, while we should be diligent and reasonable in our own expectations about closing this gap, there’s no particular reason to think that our skills couldn’t have great use elsewhere, at a later time, or that they could not be transferrable/repurposed. And if that doesn’t seem possible, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that you’ve committed yourself to something, which seems to me pretty important in itself as an experience to have in life. And so it’s not the worst thing if rejection can give us real-time, real-world insight into how receptive the world is to the things we can offer it. With that insight, we can plan better, we can plan differently, we can try again.

Rejection is also a way to discern and discriminate between things we should and shouldn’t be invested in for our mental and emotional well-being. If a person keeps rejecting you, for example, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’ll get more out of other people, and that it’s not a relationship that will develop further right this moment. Sounds pretty obvious, but being filtered out even when it’s against our own wishes is actually better than being strung along under false pretences, no? Again, I realise this is not a very sexy idea – perhaps some of us entertain the fantasy that we’ll get the thing we covet if only we tried hard enough! But sometimes, it’s just not worth it. It’s ok to get tired of trying and trying to get the thing that you really want, not get it, still want it, but give it up nonetheless – if only just to keep your sanity intact. Rejection can act as a boundary in this sense – it can indicate to us that we have done all that we can, but also that we have done just about enough, and that enough is where our pursuit should come to an end. Rejection can make us take stock of our health; a ‘No’ does not have to be a condemnation of who you are, but rather a ‘This is neither a healthy nor productive target of your time’.

I’m really not one to ‘see the positive’ in everything – I am actively against the idea that relentless or uncritical positivity is actually helpful to anybody. But I do hope that in these trying and exceptional times we can forgive ourselves and understand that we are tangled in a complex web of forces – some within, and some beyond our control – when the world says ‘No’ to us.

Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

My (very emotional) experience flying from the UK and into Denmark during Covid-19 restrictions

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been trying to fly to Copenhagen both because of my new job offer there and because my visa in the UK is about to expire. After several canceled flights with British Airways, I managed to book a route with Lufthansa which would take me from LHR (Heathrow) to FRA (Frankfurt) and finally to CPH (Copenhagen). I got up real early the morning of the 20th May – around 4.00 am – to catch my flight at London Heathrow.

As I was getting ready and gathering all my luggage I had a moment of dizziness – like of an existential kind. It suddenly hit me that I’m doing this all alone and that nobody was about to hold my hand and tell me everything will be ok. I’m about to self deport from a country I’ve lived in for almost 10 years and fly straight into a country I’ve never lived in before (and one with ongoing border closures no less). I’m leaving all my friends in the UK behind, and they wouldn’t even be able to visit me (for a good while anyway). My family are on the other side of the world and it will be a while until we reunite too. All this in the middle of a global pandemic. What if something goes wrong? What if I get stranded? It’s a lot of uncertainty. Obviously these were thoughts I had all along, but I guess in the lockdown state coronavirus has a way of making everything seem as if its on hold indefinitely, suspended in time, and really far away somehow. So I hadn’t quite grasped that what I was about to do, and had been meticulously planning for months to do (that is, to leave the UK and open a completely new chapter in life in Denmark), would actually happen. Like right now.

I’ve probably had two comparable moments of existential dizziness in my life – the first time was when I moved to Vienna as a child, with absolutely no knowledge of German or English. I was enrolled in an international school, and on the first day of school I begged my mom not to leave me in that strange environment – full of people speaking a strange language I didn’t understand (English, haha). I felt completely vulnerable, completely helpless, completely alone, and unable to communicate with either my peers or my teachers. Of course, after the terror of being dropped off on my first day of school in Vienna I never looked back. I made friends from every corner of the planet. I also didn’t just get good at English. I practically became a native English speaker within the same year. The person I became as a result of all those experiences led then to the second dizziness – the day I moved to the UK to study by myself at the age of 18 with nothing but a suitcase and a head full of dreams. I wasn’t sure what would actually come out of it in the end – only that I was going ahead with with the move regardless.

And here I am now, three degrees later and a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs to remember the years by. Needless to say, a lot really has happened in my life in the UK. Hell, I was set on getting permanent residency in the UK for the longest time, a ‘dream’ that I only recently gave up. The decision to go to Denmark only entered the picture, well, around the time I got the job in Copenhagen – right as coronavirus started rapidly spreading around Europe. It’s surreal to be uprooted and thrust back into the nebulosity of potentials.

Anyway – I sat quietly for a few minutes to compose my thoughts and emotions. Then I was off to the airport. A generous friend of mine drove me there, which was a lovely send off. I can’t imagine how people who need to do essential international travel actually get around these days without help – coach services to the airport are still not running and trains are a nightmare, not to mention expensive!

[The most beautiful sunrise ever keeps me awake for the journey.]

When I arrive at Heathrow airport, it’s very quiet. Everything seems a bit muffled. Facemasks are handed out at the entrance and there are signs everywhere reminding people to keep a minimum 2m distance from each other. Check-in was easy. I got asked if I live in Copenhagen. I said I “will” live there. I mean, my will to live there after all has been the one the thing that has dominated my life for the past couple of months.

[Quiet morning at Heathrow airport.]

I’m somehow surprised that my flight is still running and on time. Like, I’m so shocked about it that I feel like I’m in a dream or movie. Could it really all be going ahead this smoothly?


I can’t say I felt particularly comfortable on the flight leg from LHR to FRA. It was a fully booked flight and we were packed in like sardines. No social distancing measures whatsoever. I was surrounded by passengers on all sides. It felt more or less like a “normal” flight, except for the requirement that everybody wear a facemask for the duration of the journey.

We land in FRA even earlier than anticipated. I pass German border control (again dealing with the awkward “So do you or do you not live in Denmark?” questions) and even manage to do an hour or so of work.

[Waiting in Frankfurt – limited seating due to social distancing protocols.]

Then, finally, boarding for the FRA to CPH leg of the trip is announced. I still can’t quite believe it’s not cancelled or delayed.

[Pretty sure that’s the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö.]

The pilot announces our imminent arrival in CPH. I look out the window. Sunny and blue. I think I start crying uncontrollably at this point – actual tears of joy. I didn’t dare to look at the passenger sat next to me and their reaction to my apparently random burst of tears.

I really bent over backwards to make this happen, after many sleepless nights wondering if my job offer was at risk due to Covid-19, what would happen to me if I overstayed my UK visa, ad infinitum. And in the end, I made it!

[It was a particularly sunny day :)]

The rest of my journey went really smoothly – no delays picking up my luggage. I had a folder full of official documents to show the immigration officers, but passing border control barely took a minute. They asked me why I’m entering Denmark. They then quickly checked over my work permit, work contract, and housing contract before waving me through. All in all, everything went as well as it possibly could!

[Copenhagen Central Station]

The train from the airport to the central station barely took 20 minutes and there was plenty of space in the carriages. When I arrived at the station I was greeted by fresh air, sunlight, and happy vibes all around – it was only a couple of days ago that Denmark opened up shops and started coming out of lockdown. Of course I had to try my best to avoid people and hurry straight to my new apartment, but even that short walk to my place was lovely!

And so begins my life in Copenhagen 🙂

Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel

Why I’m moving to Denmark from the UK in the middle of a worldwide pandemic

Days before Denmark became one of the first countries in Europe to close its borders and go on coronavirus lockdown back in March 2020, I received a job offer from Copenhagen for June 2020. I was delighted, of course – I accepted the job offer. My hope originally was to visit Copenhagen during Easter, scope out a place to live, move in the beginning of May, and be settled and ready to start by June.

But then, chaos.

Since the lockdown, questions from others that would otherwise be easy to answer (like if I’m going to travel by land or air) have, in this pandemic time, implicated sheer panic-inducing uncertainty for me. My most frequently used phrase in the past couple of months must have been ‘I don’t know’.

Last week I would have told you I’d be in Denmark by now, but my flight got cancelled last minute. I spent a small fortune booking another flight to Denmark (I’m supposed to fly in a couple of days, heavens willing) but who knows if this one will fly. So – I still don’t know. All I can do is wait and see.

Ok, back up. Can I not start my new job contract remotely? Why not just wait until travel restrictions are relaxed further before traveling/moving?

Believe you me, it’s no fun making travel plans during a global pandemic, let alone plans to up and move my entire life to a country I’ve never lived before under these exceptional conditions. I’m about a grand short due to travel and moving related expenditures at this point and don’t think I would have been able to sort everything out without savings. I’m also still juggling my current job (my contract in the UK expires the day before my new job in Denmark is set to start).

Here’s the reason it is imperative that I travel and move now (aside from the fact that I would like to start my job on time): my visa in the UK is about to expire. The UK Home Office is still only offering to extend people’s imminently expiring visas due to coronavirus (to those who are self-isolating due to illness or cannot book flights back home) until the 31st May 2020 – as if normal flight routes will be back up and running by then (?!)

Given the Home Office’s position I must make haste. 31st May 2020 is the absolute limit; after this date I would become an overstayer. It is on us ‘foreigners’ to travel out of the country, if we are able to so, by the end of this month, if we don’t want to risk repercussions related to our immigration status. There is no luxury of sitting back and waiting out the virus. It’s surreal to think about – despite getting my PhD in the UK, and having lived, studied and worked here for 9.5 years continuously, I am effectively forced out in the middle of a pandemic despite ongoing travel restrictions/disruptions because of my visa expiry.

Many people have incredulously indicated to me that, surely, the Home Office could not be that draconian – they wouldn’t actually punish overstayers and so on, given the pandemic. Hopefully not. But who actually knows? As a ‘foreigner’ with a precarious immigration status in the UK I find this kind of incredulity naive and frustrating. It’s easy for people to sit back and speculate about what they think human decency amounts to at the policy-level when they aren’t the targets of exclusion. I would love to believe that everyone gets treated in a reasonable way in the end, in whatever country they reside – but I’m wise enough to worry! Mind you, I’m speaking from a position of relative privilege. I’ve never made trouble in the UK, I can afford to live on my own abroad, my passport gives me international mobility, I don’t have dependants to worry about, I’m not stranded, I’m not fleeing a terrible situation in my home country, and so forth. Even so, I’ve had my fair share of Kafkaesque nightmares regarding immigration matters in the UK, and the psychological centrality of my insecure immigration status as a ‘foreigner’ is largely what makes me so eager to leave to a place where my permission to be there is not under threat.

But hey – I’ve made peace with the injustice of my relationship with the UK. I certainly don’t want to stick around to find out what happens to me if I stay here. My one beacon of hope throughout the uncertainty of lockdown has been the great competence and clarity I’ve received from Denmark. My experience applying for my work permit, enrolling my biometrics, and receiving the documents necessary to pass border restrictions in Denmark, has been unbelievably smooth, relatively unbureaucratic, and incredibly fast (I got my visa in 7 days). This has made a hugely positive impact on me during such an uncertain time. I will never forget it.

See you soon, Denmark, and thank you.