Rejection is never easy to receive. In the case of realizing your career goals, it is rare to ever learn the exact reason why you were rejected for an opportunity. Most feedback offered will be mixed with a placating neutrality to buffer any anticipated reactions of anger or combativeness, particularly in a corporate environment. It can be additionally confusing when you’ve received commendations on what you’re holding in terms of talent or ability—only to have the door politely closed on you, as you approach. In those moments after, you can be left with a lot of questions from the mixed messaging received. It is difficult to remain objective and not take the rejection personally, when the commonality to each closed door is you.
There are a lot of motivational quotes on rejection floating around the internet, but rarely are there any practical, concrete steps offered on what to do when it happens. Walking into the marketplace post-college, I had a firm Plan A—to work full-time as a professional, commercially successful Jazz artist. As time progressed and I encountered push back in my goals, I downgraded my Plan A, and enrolled in grad school, in an attempt to pay the bills and create some security for myself via a corporate setting and a 401K.
Despite back-to-back positive annual appraisals, the rejections continued, in my attempts to achieve advancement within the aforementioned company. Recently, I decided to take advantage of an invitation to attend a mini-townhall with a small group of colleagues, during which I questioned the lack of advancement opportunity available for employees. When I stood my ground and continued my questioning, quoting my previous candidate experience as an example, I was openly advised by upper management, verbatim, that “maybe you should go somewhere, where what you have to offer will be valued”. It was a disheartening experience to say the least, given my contributions to the company, but this closed door has helped me in the reassessment of my goals and values--as I continue the retooling of my career plans as an artist and creative, under the lens of reinvention.
If you’re currently experiencing rejection in your career, here are some tips that may help you maintain your perspective and momentum:
I can attest to having prayed about the no’s I have received over the years with no real concrete answers as to why they were allowed. Ultimately, prayer is helpful when it revolves around releasing your anger from a rejection you've received and a petition for creative insight and strategy. Whether the rejection you are experiencing is warranted or based in politics or prejudice, you ultimately have to accept the reality of it. But in accepting the reality of your circumstances, that doesn’t mean you have to legitimize or sanction the accompanying prejudice. Don’t let people’s politics taint your self-esteem.
Take action. You don’t have to feel positive about a rejection to finally take action towards your goals. You don’t have to wait until the anger subsides. Just move. Do additional research. If you can afford it, get professional input on your plans from a career consultant or ask for a sit-down with someone within your professional network. If the rejection is recurring in one area of your career, it may be fixable with the right professional consultation. If your plan and execution are solid, maybe the market isn’t ripe enough to sustain a greenlight for your plans at this time. Now may be a good time to reevaluate or revise your strategy and/or timeline.
Don’t wait for validation or comfort from colleagues. Most people are already weighted down with their own concerns and priorities. Some peers may even be threatened by your plans, despite their own individual achievements, and any gain on your end could be perceived as a threat to theirs. Be your number one advocate. Know and believe in your talent. Be your primary confidant.
Reward yourself with the win you expected. You don’t need to bankrupt yourself. Buy yourself something small that demonstrates your belief and confidence in your future. Maybe take yourself out to dinner, and celebrate your anticipated future with friends. Do your favorite things. Take a walk and get outside of your anger and disappointment. Encourage yourself.
Write a list of pro-you statements that will sustain the visual of where you want to go. Octavia Butler is one of my favorite writers. As she worked towards realizing her career as one of the prominent Sci-Fi writers in literature, she kept one of the best journals of self-encouragement I have ever seen, reinforcing her expectations and goals.
Rejection is inevitable. Ultimately, you are in control of its effect by how you react to it. You have the power of mobility in the choice you make to continue knocking, to move to the next door, or pull up your anchor and leave. Taking some time to organize and regroup is always beneficial, in the face of rejection. “Be anxious for nothing” is a hard scripture to live by, but at its core it provides a gift of confidence and stability, and a welcome reminder to keep your head and live in trust.