Handling rejection like a boss: the 4 stages

I got rejected by a company yesterday, following two rounds of interviews. I didn’t want the job, I was interviewing to test the waters, but still.

This hasn’t happened to me in a few years and it kinda threw up some emotions I haven’t experienced for a while.

Let’s talk about the process.

Stage I: The Emotional Hit. A sense of sadness or embarrassment. A harking back to childhood disappointments. The intensity and character will vary depending on your level of self-esteem at the time, the amount of effort you put into the application, how much you wanted the job, and how confident you were of getting it. Right now I’m fairly balanced but not on-top-of-the-world so the hit was moderate. Enough to blemish the start of my day, but not enough to ruin it entirely. I made the amateur mistake of checking my phone on waking. NB: NEVER DO THIS. Get up and take care of your essential rituals before letting any external data into your life. You’ll feel much better, trust me.

I digress.

Stage II: The Instinctive Reaction. Anger emerges, alongside a desire for self-justification. This is the most dangerous stage. STAY AWAY FROM YOUR EMAIL. In the past I’ve responded during this stage and said things I’ve regretted later. You may think the other person/people are wrong, you may have some good responses to their points, but it doesn’t really matter. Get on with something else and wait until stage three.

Stage III: The Processing. As your emotions simmer away, you start to see things from the other person’s POV. You stop fighting their judgements and try to understand them. This is a crucial stage, and it is one some people never reach. Many of us are so desperate to defend ourselves that we don’t take enough time to understand the ‘attack’. It’s at this point that I really start to depersonalise the feedback I’ve received – it isn’t all about me. Nothing ever is. I also try to think “If I saw another person do X or Y”, how would I perceive that in an interview setting? In my case, key criticisms included: saying I got into teaching for the money, saying I was overqualified for the role, and allegedly mocking some of my students’ parents. Some of these comments certainly seemed to have been interpreted in a very different way to how I intended them. Indeed, some of them seemed to have been interpreted in a deliberately unfair or negative light. But again, I tried to think of the overall impression that the combined weight of these comments would give, and whether the interpretation of some was coloured by others. It would seem it was, since the interviewers were probably hoping I was a good candidate, not setting out to discredit me.

Stage IV: The ‘mature’ response. Before responding to any rejection I think its important to ask yourself “What will I achieve?” Many times, all you are really going to achieve is making the other person like you less. You may just want to “say your piece”. I get that. Sometimes I even say to myself “well, if I don’t put this person right they will carry on doing things wrong/unfairly”.

In this case, however, I sense I would ultimately just be trying to show that I was right. This leads to a second question: “Why do I care about showing some people I don’t know, for a job I didn’t even want, that I’m right?” The answer, I suspect, is pure ego. I just don’t like being told I’m not good enough.

Before you respond, you should make sure you have a clear intention in doing so. Then analyse that intention. Is it genuine? Will it make the world a better place overall?

If the answer isn’t a clear yes to either, I’d recommend getting on with something else so your brain can carry on working through stage three behind the scenes.

Take your time, sift through all the gunk and respond when its going to do some good.

Perhaps you’re wondering how I responded to the company. The truth is, I haven’t.

I’m still in stage three.

3 Ways to Stop Limiting Yourself

So here we are.

This isn’t my first blog post.

It isn’t even my first published blog post. About five years ago, I posted some embarrassingly basic economics in a distant corner of the internet. I really hope nobody ever finds it.

This post does feel significant, though.

Perhaps because it’s the first one I’ve posted with any real weight of intention behind it.

The plan: to post useful content, everyday, and see where this takes me.

The aims: help others, practice writing,  let go of perfectionism and practice ‘shipping‘ content (in the word of Seth Godin).

Best case scenario: I attract an audience, develop as a writer/person, connect with loads of people.

Worst case scenario: nobody reads it?

Probable scenario: Something good happens, however small.

The biggest barriers to reaching this point:

  1. Self-consciousness. Like many people, I was/am afraid of sharing my inner-most thoughts with the world. This feeling is primarily driven by my concern for the opinions of others, particularly those who don’t like me or may be critical of me. Often the faces that spring into my mind are ex-girlfriends or people I’ve had arguments with.
  2. Self-doubt. What if I’m not as clever as I thought? What if I don’t have anything useful to say? This feeling is primarily driven by my excessively critical relationship with myself. It relates in some way to ‘personal standards’. It is another form of fear.

3 ways to stop limiting yourself

I) Focus on your core values. Do you want to be the kind of person who puts themselves out there, provides value, and moves the human race forward? Or the kind of person who hides away in order to avoid ridicule?

World peace, happiness, more money – whatever your goal is, moving towards that is definitely more important than worrying about the imagined opinions of others.

II) Focus on growth. Most of us are scarred by childhood rejection. We fear putting content out because a rejection of our content takes us back to that childhood feeling of vulnerability. But remember, you are no longer that vulnerable little child. The worst that can happen if you put content out there is someone will criticise it. Great. If it’s constructive criticism, you will learn from it. It will help you grow and improve. It will help you hone your craft. If its not, you can forget it and move on. Either way, you will become more resilient.

The world can be tough. Rejection is out there. So is criticism. You’ve got to get used to both sooner or later.

III) The audience are not experts, unless you’re writing for experts, of course... Provided you are educated/experienced in a particular area, you will know more than the average person. Generally, your job is to provide value to most people. Most people are not world-leaders in the subject. Shut off the inner critic and write something. If its good, great. If its not, no problem. Either way, you will learn by doing.

Challenge yourself, start writing, put yourself out there.

You have nothing to lose but your limits.