Rejection? Does it get easier to handle when you are older?
Rejection is something to learn from, I would tell my kids when one didn’t get the part he wanted in a school play or the other was not invited to a sleep-over.
You learn that “life is unfair” (my Dad’s favorite phrase) or “when one door closes, another opens” (my Mom’s more optimistic approach) or “don’t take it personally” (my husband’s soothing words of choice.)
I kept these phrases in mind when I opened my email last Friday to read:
“Thank you for your time on Wednesday. There were a number of applicants for this opening. (Name of employer) regrets that we are unable to offer you the position of (job title) at this time. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.”
A friend told me a few weeks ago that a well-regarded, college planning company was looking to fill a part-time, seasonal position. I’m not looking for a job, I told her. But this ad, for a college essay specialist, has your name on it, Nancy, my friend insisted. You have the qualifications, you should apply. So I did.
To prep for my interview, I studied the Common Application college essay prompts for next Fall’s admission season. High school seniors using the Common App will write an essay, up to 650 words, on one of five topics. Here’s Topic #2:
“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
How ironic is it that when I applied for a position to assist high school students in brainstorming, writing (their words, not mine!) and editing their essays that I was the one to experience failure?
It could have been something I said or didn’t say. Perhaps it was how I looked? Was I over-qualified? Under-qualified? Not a good fit?
I don’t know why I wasn’t chosen but I can, in up to 650 words, write about it.
1. “Recount an incident when you experienced failure.”
The last time I had a job interview was 23 years ago. Last week my interviewers were a great deal younger and there were two of them in one room. One sat directly in front of me, the other to my left, requiring a great deal of head swiveling. Thought I did well on that. One seemed friendlier, one a bit cooler. I answered their questions, perhaps too candidly, as is my nature. And then to a separate room to take a written test. I like tests, thought that part went well, too.
But I admit, as I left their building, I did not have that warm fuzzy (they liked me! they really liked me!) feeling. I wrote a nice thank you note. Waited a day. Then the “regrets” email came.
2. “How did it affect me?”
I was surprised, not shocked, but I was upset. Got that pit in the stomach sick feeling. I called my husband who told me not to “take it personally.” Completely unhelpful advice. (Apologies here to my kids for ever saying that to you.) OF COURSE, I TOOK IT PERSONALLY. They rejected me. That is about as personal as it gets. We do not want you. You may think you were right for the job. We don’t agree. Guess who wins.
I emailed a few friends who were rooting for me. More reassurance; I started to calm down. My stomach returned to its normal state (hunger.) It was late afternoon; I still had research to do for an article I’m writing on college mental health and revisions to make to an agreement I’m drafting for a non-profit board.
Rejection affected me – but not for long. Move on, things to do, next project, please.
3. “What did I learn from the experience?”
I don’t think I learned anything new. When I was younger, I tasted failure often enough. This time, even though I bounced back more quickly, failure had that same bitter taste.
In my 3rd year of law school, when I was hunting for my first job, I had a series of interviews at a small DC law firm that I really wanted to join. I eagerly waited to hear from them. Email had yet to be invented so it was a letter in the mail that gave me the bad news resulting in that same pit in my stomach sick feeling.
The next day I called one of the lawyers at the firm, an older partner who I seemed to connect with during our 20 minute interview, and asked him why I didn’t get the job. He was surprisingly candid. He told me – “We all thought you had spunk, but your grades didn’t measure up.”
True. My college and grad school grades had been excellent, but my law school grades were less than stellar. And it was also true that I had spunk. Still do.
Yes, being older brings perspective, resilience, maybe even a bit of wisdom. But no getting past it, failure still hurts whatever your age.
What then did I learn from my recent brush with the world of employment?
That sometimes spunk isn’t enough, that your qualifications can get you in the door but now, as then, sometimes life is unfair (you’re right, Dad.) But when one door closes, another door opens. (you were right, Mom.) I’m going to walk through that open door now.