My Battle-Tested Secret To Handling Career Rejection
No one likes rejection. As a career coach, I talk to people just about every day who are struggling with professional setbacks. Job opportunities fizzle out. Bosses shut down great ideas. Investors pass up promising startups.
I’ve personally experienced rejections myself. Reporters and editors turn down my pitches. Prospective clients say no to my services. Some of these disappointments are easily brushed off; others aren’t. For every bit of positive traction I’ve gained, I can point to many more instances when my efforts were greeted with a negative response—or none at all.
Still, in spite of inevitable rejections along the way, my business is still thriving and expanding. And in fact, my I credit a lot of that to the way I’ve learned to manage the career rejections that I know will always come my way. Here’s a look at my hard-won and deceptively simple strategy.
There’s a difference—a subtle one to be sure, but important all the same—between staying committed to your work and being overly attached to its outcomes. Many people consider commitment and attachment to be inextricably linked, but I’ve learned to see them as two distinct things.
Commitment means being dedicated to giving 100% all the time to my business. It’s what helps me take the most productive actions possible to improve my chances of success. It fuels the types of continuous rituals my success depends on—creating another piece of content, investing in an important new project, or pursuing another lead that moves me one step closer toward reaching my goals.
On the other hand, attachment, as I’ve come to see it, is when all my energy is consumed with end results. It’s easy, after all, to link your happiness to positive outcomes, and it makes sense why so many of us do—that sense of accomplishment is often a huge emotional (and material) payoff. But in my experience, it’s often counterproductive to let my work satisfaction hinge on whether or not I land that prestigious speaking gig, get my podcast to go viral, or secure that big sponsor.
Being attached to outcomes like those means granting them a disproportionate impact on my emotions—and even my self-regard as a professional. When things go my way, the impact on my perceived self-worth and confidence can skyrocket, but when thigns don’t, it can feel devastating.
That’s why I’ve tried to distance myself from outcomes and focus instead on the process of reaching them. This may sound simple, but it’s much easier said than done, and it certainly comes with at least one drawback: It means I don’t experience those incredible highs when things work out, but it also means I don’t feel the debilitating lows when they don’t.
That may sound like I’m just repressing my natural human emotions, but for me it’s the downward plummets, rather than the low-points themselves, that I find most exhausting. There are three key beliefs I’ve come to embrace that help me avoid dwelling on rejection.
First, I remind myself that fixating on the experience of rejection gets in the way when it’s time to pursue my next opportunity. It’s simply an unhelpful mind-set. Learning from failure is one thing, but stewing in it is another. What’s more, prospective clients or business partners can sniff out when I’m feeling down, and that doesn’t exactly instill them with confidence about working with me.
Second, I try to remember that it detracts from my productivity by trickling into the rest of my work, distracting me from the very projects I need to focus on in order to bounce back.
And the third belief I try to keep in mind is that dwelling on rejection creates a disconnect between my behaviors and my work. As a career consultant, part of my job is helping my clients stay motivated, positive, and forward-looking. If I don’t share those attitudes myself, I can’t do my best work for them.
Instead of fixating on the outcome of a failed effort, I try to focus on the process involved. It’s what you learn along the way that counts the most when it comes to doing better next time.
That’s why it’s important to avoid staying down for too long. Opportunities have a way of fizzling out, and the more of them that do, the more you learn over time that sulking is okay—just as long as you sulk quickly. Reflect on what you could’ve done differently, think critically about why it didn’t work out, maybe give it another shot (or two), then drop it. Fast. There’s a limit to how much failure can actually teach you, and sometimes the longer you stew on it the less you learn.
Next, I try to create another unit of progress right after a major setback. When people don’t respond to my outreach, for instance, I still maintain a steady cadence of work—no matter whether I’m feeling motivated or completely demotivated. I dig deep and produce one more podcast episode, write one more article, or pitch myself one more time.
No, it isn’t easy, but this type of dogged perseverance is exactly what it takes to push yourself back into the process of your work, so you can detach yourself a little from the outcomes of it. I’ve learned to make sure my metronome of productivity stays ticking every single day.
In fact, I try to set myself not just one unit of progress after a major rejection but several. One setback matters less when you have a lot going on, so I’ve learned to avoid putting all my eggs in a single basket. That helps remind me that I’m not dependent on any particular opportunity to make or break me. And I can focus on the experience of working toward each of them simultaneously instead.
Rejection can either slowly chip away at your confidence, or it can build your resilience, perseverance, and resourcefulness. If you can find a way to focus on the road ahead instead of staring in the rearview mirror, you’ll always find the fuel to keep going. After all, a career is a process, not a destination.