I never could have predicted the number of emails I would receive from on-campus clubs with the subject line “Thank You for Your Interest in Our Organization.” These emails, addressed “Dear Applicant,” informed me about the record number of applications the organization received that year, how impressed they were by the sheer magnitude of talent, and yet, my application was not selected for the next round.
The experience of repeated club rejections is nothing out of the ordinary to the average Hoya. I received these emails once again in my sophomore fall at Georgetown University, when I faced rejections from the same set of business clubs for the third semester in a row. Little did I know, one of my most valuable experiences of college was not going to be with one of these prominent organizations. Rather, my time developing a relatively obscure organization would provide me the challenge and growth I was looking for, and I believe all Hoyas can discover these fortuitous opportunities, too.
That was when a friend of mine at one such competitive organization asked me if I wanted to join another club she was in: the Georgetown Marketing Association. I didn’t know much about marketing, but I wanted to take this opportunity to learn, so I went for it.
When I met the board of GMA, it turned out a lack of marketing experience was quite acceptable. GMA, alongside its various related programs for marketing students, operated a small marketing consulting practice, which sounded like a phenomenal opportunity to finally get involved in the business world. While I still applied and interviewed, the process was significantly faster than others because, back then, GMA was not as well known as some of the other organizations I kept applying to.
I walked on as an account manager because of my previous leadership experiences. Fast forward a year, and I joined the board as chair of account management. We were the dream team; every single board member shared a vision to grow GMA to be unlike it ever was before. In that 2018-19 school year, we hosted the brand director of Moët, the vice president of marketing at Maybelline and restructured our consulting branch to become Georgetown’s first-ever student-run marketing agency, which we coined “GMAgency.”
While our projects that year were immensely exciting, what was most important were the people we attracted to join GMA. We found some of Georgetown’s most artistic minds and marketing aficionados across all four schools, who remain some of our most passionate leaders. GMA’s expansion created novel opportunities for our fellow students to become involved in valuable projects in an often underrated field of business. We became another viable option for our fellow Hoyas to find their niche or try something new.
Reflecting on this experience, I learned much more developing a fledgling organization than riding on the success of a well-established one. I discovered that repeated trial and error in attempting to push GMA to the next step endowed me with a wealth of understanding about myself, my teammates, my organization and the environments we operated in. I believe when students take on the responsibility of starting and growing a young organization, the experience of facing challenges renders successes even more rewarding and provides motivation to persist in watching that organization thrive.
I want our newest Hoyas to hear this story and understand that a club rejection is nothing but a redirection. While competitive organizations provide great opportunities, valuable experiences are more evenly distributed than one may think. By joining or founding an organization with a mission you believe in and assembling a team dedicated to advancing that mission, regardless of its reputation, students can and will gain the experiences to grow their perspectives, sharpen their skill sets and prepare stories to tell — both professionally and personally.
The Hilltop hosts countless passionate and devoted groups of people committed to leaving the world better than they found it, but it would be a shame to watch that passion and devotion dwindle with every rejection email. Instead, Hoyas must take those rejections as calls to keep searching, and emerging organizations must find and welcome new members with opportunities for involvement and engagement. Let’s have our creations and innovations define us, and let our failures only be the backstory that got us there.
Ridwan Meah is a graduated senior from the School of Foreign Service.