Why I Framed My NYU Rejection Letter

03/29/2013 10:53 am ET | Updated May 29, 2013

I wake up, after my third attempt at shutting down my alarm. I aimlessly walk to my desk, turn on my never off computer, attempt to type my password in my near-conscious state, succeed at the ninth, and open my mail application on the taskbar. Seven notifications, I scroll down, I see NYU. I think, oh, just another email that tells me how exciting my dream school is and how everybody there is having the time of their life and how I should be there too. But then I see "Your NYU Admissions Decision." Purple letterhead, my address, oh my God, this is official.

Dear Marc,

The admissions committee at New York University has carefully considered your application and supporting credentials, and it is with regret that I must inform you that we are unable to offer you admission to one of our NYU campuses this year.

Worst. Morning. Ever.

I think it took me approximately 59 and a half minutes to truly realize the gravity of the situation. I did not know as to whether or not I would succumb to my inner-toddler and throw the biggest tantrum ever or go back to sleep and try to never wake up again. I tried to direct the blame to the admissions team that supposedly "regretted" their decision. Then I tried to blame my counselor, whom I devised a scenario for whereby she forgot to send everything, which of course did not happen. Ultimately I directed the blame to myself, telling myself I wasn't good enough, that I could've done better, that I should've studied harder for the SATs, or that the reason why they rejected me was because I just didn't want it as much as the others. Just as usual, before I even got a chance to get up from the computer, I began to compare myself to how everybody else was doing, how I wasn't like the valedictorian, going to Harvard, or my friend, who got a full ride to her first-choice college. I threw a pity party attended by nobody but myself and ate a generous slice of humble pie, because I knew that this was just the first of the many major rejections I will face in life.

Lastly, I printed out that email and framed it.

It was almost second nature to me, as if it was natural to objectify my failure and place it in a location in my house for the entire family to see. Of course I've contemplated taking it down and just throwing it away but I've realized that I framed the letter to serve as a reminder of what I've realized about myself and the average teenager today.

I compare myself to others in order to define how successful I am. This is perhaps my most negatively defining characteristic of myself, particularly because I am extremely adept at comparing myself to others in order to gauge how successful I am in the present moment. It's almost natural for human beings to compare themselves to others, primarily because we live in a community of social competition. When I live amongst the Harvards, the Yales and the MITs, it became second nature for me to put them on a pedestal and simultaneously develop an inferiority complex.

I've realized through a single rejection letter that as a teenager, we are pushed and pushed and pushed to almost fit into a mold of success. No longer are we only concerned with crafting a successful social image; we are also concerned with an image of personal success in the eyes of others.

As teenagers, we have goals. We have goals to finally graduate high school and attend a good college. Sometimes, such as in my case, goals become expectations. We expect to get into the college of our choice. We expect to become successful. But success in itself is subjective. What success is to others may not be what success is to you. Only you are the deciding factor on what success really is, so relying on other people to determine how successful you are isn't the most reliable way to do so.

I'm not going to graduate as the valedictorian or the salutatorian of my class. Heck, I'm not even graduating in the top 20 percent of my class. I won't be able to wear a gold sash during my graduation or be able to sit on stage. Sure, some people may think of that as not being successful. But to me, just being able to walk the stage, take that diploma, and leave as a high school graduate -- that is success to me.

I framed NYU's rejection letter ultimately to serve as a reminder to my future self of where I have gotten as a result of what I have overcome. How, in many respects, the rejections I faced in life helped me continually reshape my own personal definition of success.