You’ve been let go from your job. Or maybe you were passed over for the promotion. Or you applied to a position you very much wanted, and didn’t get so much as an acknowledgement of your application. Or you were turned down by the school or program that you had your heart set on attending. Or maybe your “great idea” got shot down. The list is nearly endless. Whatever the situation, or whatever the reason, we will all inevitably be rejected.
A couple of things made me think about this: a very recent situation where I was rejected for something (I won’t get into the details of it here), and the job hunt presentation that I just gave this past weekend at WE Local Hartford. In my presentation, I include a slide that talks about what to do when you’re rejected. I figured I should expand upon that. It occurred to me that, when it comes to professional development, we talk a lot about improving yourself and things to do to improve your chances. But we rarely talk about what happens when — not if — we get rejected.
Let’s face it. Getting rejected sucks. It’s a blow to your ego. You start thinking about what you did wrong. You start wondering if you’re really qualified to be doing what you’re doing. It’s often a major contributor, if not the root cause, of imposter syndrome. I can tell you that I’ve suffered my share of it, and it’s shaped my professional career in a number of ways. I would be lying to you if I said that I’m immune to rejection and it doesn’t get me down, because I’m not, and it does.
That said, when it comes to professional development, getting rejected is rarely personal. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that getting rejected for personal reasons doesn’t exist, because it does. But think of this: if you’re applying for a job or a school, what are the chances that someone making the decision knows who you are and is rejecting you because of a personal issue? I’d think that those odds are almost zero.
(It’s possible that maybe you were rejected because of some form of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, or ageism. However, this goes outside the scope of this article, and is another topic for another time.)
So how do you deal with rejection? I don’t know about the psychology behind dealing with rejection (that’s a conversation that goes beyond my education and expertise), but here’s what I think.
Remember that you are human. We are not machines. You are not expected to be perfect. You are going to make mistakes. In most cases, one or two slip-ups shouldn’t be enough to sink you. Don’t spend your time dwelling on what you did wrong. It’s often not worth the stress.
That said, make sure that you…
Fix whatever is broken. Each mistake we make is a learning experience. Find out what the mistake is and take steps to fix it so you’ll know better the next time it comes up.
So how do you find out what’s broken? For one thing…
Get feedback. It is perfectly okay to ask why you were rejected. Maybe you didn’t have the right skill set, or a skill was lacking. Maybe you didn’t communicate well. Whatever the reason, asking why you were rejected helps you to identify any issues that you need to fix.
It might also simply be that you just weren’t the right fit. I keep thinking of a scene at the beginning of Tootsie where Dustin Hoffman’s character was auditioning for a show. After arguing with the director as to why he should be picked, he was finally told, “we’re looking for somebody else, okay?” It takes two to tango, and not every match is a perfect fit, whether it’s different cultures, mindsets, skill sets, or whatever. Think of it this way: if it’s not the right fit, do you really want to be there, anyway?
Consider the competition. Maybe someone else has a better skill set, or is more experienced. Maybe there were 200 applicants for only one position, which means that 199 people were going to get rejected… and you just happened to be one of them. Only one person can be the best, so chances are that no matter how good you are, there will likely be someone who is better than you.
Always take the high road. Whatever you do, keep a positive mindset (yes, I realize that this is easier said than done). As I said earlier, it is okay to ask why you were rejected, and if you can get an honest answer, you can fix it and move on. You also don’t want to burn bridges; you never know whether or not you’ll need to deal with that person or company again. Even for jobs for which I’ve been rejected, I’ve asked if it was okay for me to connect with them on LinkedIn, and most of them have obliged.
Have a short memory. It’s human nature to dwell on what went wrong, so the ability to forget about it and move on can often be an asset. Even Mariano Rivera, the Hall of Fame relief pitcher who seemed nearly untouchable, gave up an occasional home run or walkoff hit. He often mentioned that one of his assets was to forget about it and move on to the next game.
Distract yourself. Something to get your mind off your experience might not be a bad thing. Forget about your issue for a while and go do something you enjoy. Go to a movie, work on your hobbies, play golf, hang out with friends, whatever it takes for you to get your mind off of it for a while.
Talk to someone. Don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Get it out of your system. Talk to a friend and say what’s on your mind. Not only will it feel good to unload your feelings, it’s also an opportunity to network.
When I gave my presentation in Hartford this past weekend, I asked if anyone had lost their job and was looking. One lady raised her hand. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her, but I did get a sense that she was frustrated by her situation. If she is reading this, I want to you know that it happens to the best of us. We’ve been there and done that. Don’t let the rejections define you.
Keep plowing through, and eventually, you’ll get accepted.