Table of Contents
Missing out on a promotion, getting fired, your resume getting rejected – sound familiar? Everyone experiences setbacks like these at some point in their careers, but how do you react when it happens to you? Is there a different way to frame these situations?
The good news is, you can leverage rejections or setbacks into opportunities for growth and self-discovery.
Below, we’ll discuss how you can do this and how you can prepare for potential setbacks to create a roadmap to success.
Take a Page from Professional Writers
When I started working as a writer, I remember reading that I could expect 99 rejections before my first submission was accepted. Yikes! Famed YA fiction writer Judy Blume put it succinctly: “Rejection is a fact of life if you want to be a writer.”
Of course, rejection isn’t limited to those working in content creation and publishing. According to Forbes, over 100 people apply, on average, to every job. About 20 percent of those applicants move on to the interview stage, and only a handful (or just one) get the job.
So, how do writers—and everyone else—cope with rejection? Mentally prepare yourself for it, process your emotions, learn from criticism, and let it propel you. We’ll consider each of these steps in detail below.
Writers know that some of their submissions will be rejected; job applicants know that only some applications will lead to a job offer. Realizing and accepting this helps staunch the negative emotions that can result from rejection or ghosting during a job search.
Psychologists refer to this as resilience. Colloquially, some people call it developing a “thick skin.” You can increase your overall resilience by building strong relationships with the people around you, taking care of yourself mentally and physically, and doing things that make you feel accomplished or full of purpose every day – even those days when your job search seems to drag on and on.
Experts also recommend following another colloquialism: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” In other words, don’t let your feelings of self-worth ride entirely on being selected for a specific job, internship, university, scholarship, or promotion.
Instead, you can widen your prospects. We’ll talk about this more in the section “Think Outside the Box,” below.
Mental preparedness can also help with other unexpected setbacks, such as the loss of a job or a demotion. How so? Consider an analogy. Psychologists have found that people who think their way through potential emergency situations—like what to do in a plane crash—are more likely to survive an actual emergency. Just thinking things through makes a “path” for the brain to follow instead of panicking.
You can face career emergencies in a similar way. Everyone’s situation is unique, but if you think through your options in advance, you won’t panic in the face of rejection.
No matter how prepared you are, rejection still hurts. Take time to recover; cry if you need to. Talk things out with a trusted friend or journal about it. Indulge in a little self-care. Avoid negative self-talk, as this will only hinder your efforts.
Overall, make sure you are kind to yourself. Remember your strengths and don’t focus too much on what you think the reason was for rejection, imagined or otherwise.
Often, our first reaction to criticism or counsel is to reject it. We reason that the advice doesn’t apply to us, to our situation, that any shortcomings were someone else’s fault, or that the one offering counsel is wrong or just plain mean.
But criticism can be a catalyst for growth if you let it. Swallow any negative feelings you might have about being counseled, and look for the facts. Criticism can open your eyes to areas with room for improvement – even those you might have missed in self-evaluation. Instead of pitying yourself, work hard to strengthen those weaknesses and gain new skills.
In fact, you can even seek out constructive criticism. Writers often hire editors to critique their work, and you can do something similar. Ask your boss for a performance review. Have someone proofread and offer feedback on your job application materials.
Finally, the desire to prove a critic wrong can be a powerful motivator – sharpen your skills, then get out there and do what they thought you couldn’t.
Think Outside the Box
As discussed above, you shouldn’t allow all your prospects to hinge on a single acceptance letter. Instead, widen out, and think outside the box. How?
Don’t stop with one application – set a goal to apply to two, three, or even ten jobs or programs each week until you receive a positive reply. Look for creative and unexpected ways to utilize your skill set. For example, if you have a background in computer programming, don’t limit yourself to tech-centric companies. Diverse industries could benefit from your know-how, and you’ll likely learn new things along the way. Like programming, many skill sets can be valuable in unexpected places.
Rejection and disappointment aren’t entirely negative – you can use them to help you grow. First, prepare yourself mentally – understand that rejection will happen, and you can get through it.
Then, take care of yourself when undergoing the sting of rejection. But don’t shy away from criticism – allow it to illuminate areas of weakness, and take action to strengthen them. Finally, think outside the box and realize that you can succeed even in unexpected places.
Rejection can help us grow, it’s just a matter of changing the way we think and re-framing our experiences.