We remember our firsts – at least most of them. Our first day of school is memorialized in a snapshot taped to our parents’ refrigerator or in a dusty album at the top of the closet. Our first love is seared into our hearts. And the memory of our first professional or academic rejection lives in the pit of our stomach that haunts our thoughts as we try to sleep.
After that first, however, most of us (the lucky ones) will continue to experience professional rejection throughout our careers – so we need to learn how to deal with it. Struggling with rejection has particular gendered effects that likely affect women more than men. Countless studies show that women are less likely to ask for promotions or more responsibility in the workplace than their male counterparts, and new research suggests that even when women do ask for these promotions, they are denied more often than men. Should we fall into the trap of allowing rejection to discourage our ambition, this problem can only compound.
My first rejection came in the form of an internship I was passed over for in my first year of law school. I applied for the “big firm” jobs that came to campus to interview the school’s top students. These interview offers are typically based on grades and personal connections alone. Though I was one of the lucky few included in this round of interviews, I was not selected. I was entirely confused. I did the work, had the grades, and curated the resume. Why was there not a place for me?
Now, after a few years have passed, I can truly express gratitude that I did not secure that internship. First, I would have been miserable. I was not passionate about that position – but I did find passion in the next job. Looking back on my professional life at this juncture, my path is winding. At this point, I am now comfortable with “no” and rejection. The more you experience it, the easier it is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and write the next grant application or apply for the next job. But the question is: how do we get there? I’ve compiled a list of lessons that have helped me to deal with this type of rejection.
1. You are allowed to grieve – but only for a few minutes.
If you spend too long on the grief, you lose sight of the future. Allowing yourself to be stuck in the negative feelings that accompany rejection makes it difficult to move on and produce something new that will lead to success. There was an article in The Guardian that highlighted the “Anti-CV” as a tool for accepting rejection. In the article, an objectively successful professional and professor at Princeton created a reverse CV – a document chronicling not his successes, but his failures. This can prove truly inspirational, as it highlights just how many failures it takes to build success.
2. Learn from it.
Instead of trying to erase a particular rejection from your memory, use it as an opportunity for growth. Ask yourself how you can make a stronger candidate for future opportunities. Do you need to rewrite your resume/CV or research statement? Do you need to strengthen your methodological training? Do you just need more time to compile more experience? Or did you try your best and it did not work out this time?
3. Be thankful for it.
With every door closing, another door opens. For every no, there is a yes. These are maxims we hear throughout our lives, but they may be misleading. Sometimes reality reflects for every fifteen no’s, there is one yes. Nevertheless, you found you will eventually find yourself with a yes. If possible, try your best to be thankful for the rejection, because it will allow you to devote time and energy to the next project. Every rejection is a challenge to create your own success.
4. Move on.
If you did your best and you learned from your experience, it is time to move on. In the words of the Avett Brothers, “another is waiting.”
Christine is a PhD student in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. She specializes in Public Law and American Politics. Follow her on Twitter at @ChristineCBird and at christinecbird.com.