When I threw together my WK12 submission, I didn’t think I’d hit the mark. I submitted it a couple days late and figured that it’d be swept into cyberspace with hundreds of other submissions. It’s the reason I simul-posted it here on On the Hook.
Then last weekend came and went, and the @WK12 twitter feed let me know that “people moving on would be notified on Friday.” Wasn’t me, wasn’t too surprised. A little flare of excitement burnt out and fell back to earth.
On Monday night I was in Dallas, celebrating the end of a long work day with a shot and a beer, when I got an email from WK12: “Sorry for the delay. You have Thursday to submit if you wish to continue.” Apparently, my email address had been entered incorrectly, I’d unknowingly made the cut from 600 to 100, and I’d be spending the next two days of a busy work trip trying to answer one of three questions:
1. What would Gadhafi’s application to W+K12.8 look like? 2. What should the role of United States government be? 3. Make your favorite vegetable America’s favorite food.
I picked the question that sounded the most like a paper topic I might’ve had to write for college, camped out at the same bar the next night, and wrote my treatise on American Government. It seemed to me that the safe bet was to avoid art, design, spacial awareness, and aesthetics. Instead, I’d employ cleverness and intellect, humor and wit, cynicism and optimism (yeah, both at once). My hope was to corner the market on a particular type of applicant–to make myself so unique that I’d have to be invited to the “Round of 24” interviews to take place in Portland at the end of next week.
I decided I’d show a spark of creativity and humor by throwing some illustrations and notes into the margins–just enough to suggest I wasn’t purely analytical, but no more than I could handle. By now, I was in a bar in Houston. Red-skinned white men with closely cropped hair were shouting at football games on TV, forty-something blondes in stilettos were everywhere, and there wasn’t another beard to be found in the room. I felt like a fucking hipster, working away on my marketing-and-design-and-think-tank-school application in shorts and a Bob Ross t-shirt.
On the due date, I made a trip to the FedEx office, spent forty minutes with a fidgety Windows computer, and scanned my final product. I clipped it to an email, keyed a friendly companion message, and gave myself to freedom from deep thought for the first time in two days.
Just this morning, I woke up at 3:50am Texas-time to catch my 6 o’clock flight back to civilization. On my way out of the elevator, I scanned my email and found a rejection letter from WK12. I felt empathy with the high school kids whose applications I read and eventually deny–hundreds every single year. Thousands over the last four.
My first thought: “did they even read my submission? That was so fast.” My second thought was to look in between the lines of the email. Maybe this was a test of my resolve–was there hope to hold onto? Were there implicit positives? Nope, none of those. I considered that I hadn’t truly explained what I was trying to do with my submission, and finally realized that it all had probably gone as I’d intended it. And it would all be okay. Disappointing, sure. But sensible, too. I felt respected and encouraged, in a way that only a good rejection letter can create.
In the end, I thought the application process was inspiring and exciting. I worked myself into a frenzy in my free time between interviews and school visits. For two nights in a row, I tossed and turned in bed after hours of work, literally unable to stop myself from thinking, planning, creating. I’m not convinced that WK12 would have been the right thing for me long-term, but I’m certain that I need to find ways to be challenged like this all the time.
I’ll be on the lookout for the next great opportunity.