Letter to my Daughter on Receiving a Rejection Letter to a University   6 comments

Dad and daughter back in the day, looking a tad preppy!

Dad and daughter back in the day, looking a tad preppy!

My daughter Hanna, aka to some of you as Johanna, was recently turned down in her application to study photography at one of our universities. Rejection is always hard, I know. I reminded her that I was rejected by UBC but then was accepted at York for my MFA.

So I know it’s not easy, no matter how much you have going for you. It’s a hit to the ego and it hurts.

The people at the university in question, trying to be competitive and fair, looked at Hanna’s high school grades which they felt were a little low.

What they didn’t know was that she had given up a promising and potentially lucrative modeling career which was taking place mostly in New York (and  London and Paris) to return to Calgary to finish school in the first place.

That she finished high school at all was a bit of a miracle, and I know that when her mother and I watched her graduate we felt especially proud of the very mature decisions she made as a young teenager to get her to that point.

But now, the chickens have come home to roost, I suppose. She is disappointed, but I gently reminded her that she is currently working in the real world of photography, in some cases with artists whom her (not to be) professors have only read about, and so to keep moving forward and to never stop making her own way in the world.

And I shared with her my little metaphor about how a career in the arts is like riding on a train, and I as I know many artists read this blog, I wanted to share it here with you, with Hanna’s blessing.

I end up with her some of her thoughts on modeling along with some of her photos from a recent issue of INTERRUPT Magazine.



The train metaphor is about having a career as an artist. When you are young, you see the train going by and think, that looks cool, I think I’d like to be on that train. So you run after it a bit and catch up to the last car but it is totally packed and instead of people helping you up they seem to be pushing you away. There are even people hanging off the edges but you finally grab onto a piece of the railing or a ladder, you grab on and hang on for dear life and away you go.

Finally you get yourself pulled up into the back of the last car. It’s crowded and smelly and there’s hardly enough food and sometimes not even a clear space on the floor to sleep on and many times you think of jumping off because you see others jumping off, but you hang in there and the good thing about others jumping off is that it clears a little room for yourself and so gradually you are able to move forward in the car and even dream of what’s waiting in those cars ahead of you on the train.

And those others jump off at very nice places like law schools and accounting firms and marriages with lovely suburban houses and puppies and such, it’s all so tempting. Have a good look, because either you have that, or you stay on the train, it seems you can’t have it both ways.

So you stay on. At times the trip is tedious and monotonous and you wonder why you bother as do others, and they keep jumping off at the oddest places and yet there is more and more room, to the point it can get quite lonely at times. But you stay on the train and eventually make your way up to those cars ahead of you, where it gets a little better, a little easier.

After all your work and sacrifice, you might pass by those who jumped off and they will look at you with a mixture of admiration and loathing and think to themselves, “I was on that train once myself, I could still be on there too, but I jumped off . . .”

Well, say hello and wave good bye, you’re either on or off.

And the way is never easy or predictable. You say you should frame your rejection letters . . . Hemingway wallpapered his living room with rejection letters before he ever got published. I have a stack of them, and even at my age and with some reputation, I know that stack is growing.

That’s no reason to quit, though. All the more reason to carry on. It’s not easy, but you might find as the train continues on its course, eventually you will make it up to the front cars where you can actually get a seat and maybe they’ll bring you a drink and you can look out at the passing scenery and know there’s no place else on earth you would rather be.

And that’s my little metaphor of the train that has sustained me all these years and I hope it will you, too.


Here’s Hanna with the final word. Thanks for reading!







Posted May 5, 2013 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

6 responses to “Letter to my Daughter on Receiving a Rejection Letter to a University

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  1. I love your analogy. Although in my world, that train feels more like a roller coaster at times. 😉

    Johanna’s photographs are beautiful and her inspiration is engaging, she has a natural talent.

    We have many talented photographers in our city, my advice would be to assist a variety of professionals until (if she so chooses) she applies to school again next year. Many of the photogs I know are self taught and have made impressive careers for themselves by blazing their own paths. There is no reason why she can’t do the same. A degree in photography isn’t a guarantee – I have one and now I am a painter!

    All the best to you both!

  2. Pingback: The weekly offering for Readers, Writers, and Book Lovers … | Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

  3. Such a heart warming blog. What a wonderful father you are!!
    That very special relationship that fathers and daughters share makes train analogy one Hanna will remember all her days. She will recall those words many times during her life, always being thankful for your wisdom! She may even whisper a “thanks Dad” towards the heavens. Send her some flowers just because …. You really, really rock Eugene!!

    By the way … she is the spit of you … love her expressive eyes – she is gorgeous!!!

  4. I adore this article and the beautiful imagery you are always so capable of evoking. She is better off just doing it – no degree will make her a better photographer, but life might, experience can, and the love of a dad like you, certainly will.

  5. Nice article and to Hanna this could be a good thing. University may teach you about photography, editing programs, the inner workings of various recording devices, etc but they can’t teach you to be an artist. If you can do it nurture it with your circle of those who have achieved.

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