The elephant in Goodes Hall

Talking about the unspoken issues in the Commerce program.

Smith School of Business.
Journal File Photo

It’s missing that last shot when there are 20 seconds left in the game. It’s hearing the words, “You were an excellent candidate but unfortunately…” as a precursor to what’s sure to be a rejection email. It’s those slip-ups in an important presentation.

It’s failure. It’s that heart-wrenching, stomach-knotting feeling of rejection. It’s that burning feeling of disappointment you get when you fall short. Rejection is something that looms over the Commerce program and in the lives of all the Commerce students. And yet, it’s never really talked about in the halls of Goodes. 

Failure is defined differently by everybody — there’s no one set definition for it. For me, failure wasn’t getting the executive positions I had applied to and wanted so desperately in first semester. It was spending time on the application, absolutely falling in love with the team, preparing for the interview, coming out of it feeling confident and then falling short. 

You might be thinking, “So what? Everybody goes through failure. Everybody deals with rejection. It’s common.” 

Exactly — it’s common. But in the Commerce program, it’s not something people like to address explicitly. Failure is taboo. It’s hushed, shuffled away into the “that which we do not speak of” category. It’s the elephant in Goodes Hall. 

Queen’s Commerce and the Smith School of Business is known to be one of the most prestigious business schools across Canada. This program attracts a specific type of person: driven, hard-working individuals who like to push themselves. 

Along with a majority of my peers, I came into the program having never experienced a lot of failure or major rejection before. My high school years were defined by my extra-curricular involvement in a variety of clubs ,and yet, I never really had to be competitive and cut-throat when I applied for positions in high school. I had always been 

proactive and I had always pushed myself to work hard. Fortunately, this was recognized by my peers. 

But, in just the first couple weeks at Queen’s, I could tell this hyper-competitive environment was different from my school back home. All of a sudden, everybody I was surrounded by was the best of the best at their own high schools. 

Frosh rep hiring in September was my first exposure to this. Not even two weeks had passed after Orientation Week when we were already thrown into a world of club acronyms, countless interviews and 250-word application questions. 

During frosh week, I remember talking to a couple students in the program who mentioned they had already started prepping in the summer for the interviews. I was completely shocked. I asked myself why that was even necessary. 

Evidently, I wasn’t prepared for the competitive nature of the program and the intensive initial frosh rep hiring process.

And so, when the results started coming out, the first rejection email came. Then, it was a rejection call. And then, another email. 

I had applied to five and was offered one — which luckily I’m very passionate about. Despite my one success, what stuck in my mind was that I had gotten rejected from four. I had failed four times, which was something I found hard to accept and face.What started happening to me, and what I later learned happened to some of my friends, was that I started taking the rejection very personally. With each rejection call or email, I’d think to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” and wonder, “Is my best not enough?” 

These rejections started to lead myself, and many others, to fall into a habit of constantly doubting ourselves and our abilities. For many in my program, this same feeling eventually led to the fear of applying for other positions. 

We’d ask ourselves, “What’s the point of applying to this if it only means somebody else is going to get hired?” And many start to lead themselves to believe that this next rejection — this last one — may be too hard to swallow.

In a program with so many talented, incredible Type-A individuals, there’s this stigma behind failure. Vulnerability is scary — almost frowned upon and sneered at — because you feel as if you can’t show that side of you. You’re constantly surrounded by high-performing individuals with a 4.0 GPA who go to sleep at 2 a.m., get up for a run at 6 a.m. and stay efficiently functioning throughout the day. 

In Commerce, you definitely don’t want to wave around your failure and rejection emails. As a result — since successes are the only things being talked about — those who have faced failure and rejection begin to believe they’re the only ones in the program who feel this way. You start to internalize the failure and it can be incredibly isolating. This, in turn, can also seriously impact a student's mental health when burning-out and lacking sleep to get high grades and positions is praised. 

This is exactly why I believe writing this is important. The stigma behind failure in the program creates such a negative culture. Instead, we all need to be less afraid and embarrassed of our failure and rejection. 

What I want to do is open up that discussion and make students realize it’s okay to talk about our failures and understand where we went wrong. 

Personally, I believe failure is incredibly important and helpful. Looking back, I learned a lot from my first semester in Commerce including what repeated failure was like and the importance of learning to bounce back from it. Each rejection — every email, phone call and failed application — taught me to keep pushing, and to keep working hard.  

Failure can be difficult to swallow. Going from a small pond to a big, immensely talented one can be difficult for many. But this is the very aspect I enjoy about the competitive environment at Smith — it pushes you to become  better, work harder and strive to pursue more. It helps you to walk out at the end of your four years feeling resilient and much more confident in your abilities to take on the world. 

And what’s even better is the feeling and sense of accomplishment you get after finally reaching your goal after all that hard work and perseverance. After you jump over those barriers to get what you want, whether it’s after another two failed tries or another 10, it all tastes that much sweeter.  

And as a final reminder, I write this not because of resentment or hopelessness. I’m so grateful for all the experiences and opportunities this program has provided me with. 

Rather, I write this because this stigma of failure is part of the Queen’s Commerce culture. I hope that, over time, we can start to see a cultural shift. I write this so we can finally start a conversation about failure and voice these thoughts that have been kept quiet for far too long. I write this for the other first-years who might be having the same thoughts, but are thinking they’re alone in how they feel and should bottle their frustration and self-doubt. I write this for the third-and-fourth years who are going through recruiting right now and not receiving the results they had hoped for. 

I write this so that over time, we can abolish the stigma and talk about failure and rejection more openly, rather than whispering about it behind the closed doors of breakout rooms. 

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