At some point in our lives we’ll all face rejection. Whether it’s getting denied by your dream business school, a great interview that doesn’t result in an offer, or losing your dream Bucktown apartment in 2017 (still not over this one). Navigating through business school has pushed me to reevaluate the relationship I have with rejection. It’s a part of life that will come my way whether I like it or not. I’d love to share three key approaches I have taken to facilitate a productive and healthier relationship with rejection: manifest the life and opportunities you’d like to have (hang in there with me on this one), reflect on the missteps, and shift your perspective.
You might read “manifestation” and think, “Is she about to get spiritual on me right now?” Nope. Instead, I use manifestation to process rejection – really to process any roadblocks in my life – by picturing myself as the person I want to be, inclusive of the way I interact with the world. Essentially, I’ve developed a super clear vision of my future self in my head that I look to when I need to remind myself what I’m working towards. What I envision is myself on a stage as a keynote speaker, talking about my career, my successes, failures, and everything in between. Why a keynote speaker? Because keynote speakers use their voice to inspire and empower their audiences, which is the type of impact I strive to have. I’d like to share an example of how I bring this practice to life…
I applied to Booth for the first time in 2017, making it through the interview. I was rejected. I moped around for a solid day, and then visualized future me on that stage. What was the story I was going to tell the audience to inspire them? It sure wasn’t going to be “I moped around for days.” I envisioned myself telling this very story in 10 – 15 years, and it was told like this: “I was rejected from all the business schools I applied to in 2017. I realized I could make an opportunity out of this, and decided to pivot my career to build out my skillset.” So, that’s what I did. I had professional experiences that changed, matured, and humbled me. Then, after two years, I applied to business schools again, Round 1. I was waitlisted… TWICE! Each time I was waitlisted, I visualized the version of myself I saw in10 – 15 years. I let her be both the guide and the inspiration, kept hustling hard for the next few months, and on May 14, 2019 I was accepted to Booth.
Manifestation alone isn’t going to get you what you want. Reflecting on your rejection and how you’re going to spin it to work in your favor is key. Hence my second tactic to process rejection: reflection. If you’re going to be honest with anyone in your life, it better be yourself. Reflection can be super painful, especially for those of us that are heavy self-criticizers, but it’s worth it. The way I use reflection in the face of rejection is by imagining myself in the decision-maker’s shoes. If I were to ask that person why they rejected me, what would they say? If you’re in the room with me while I’m doing this, I’m quite literally talking to myself and making facial expressions at the air. I don’t care how wacky I look because it works! Story time…
I was recruiting for product management roles at the start of the internship recruiting season my first year at Booth. I had a list of at least 50 roles I applied to in an Excel spreadsheet. When I say I was rejected by all of them except two, I am not exaggerating. The number of generic “you were such a strong applicant, but we decided to go in a different direction” emails I received was almost humorous. I realized I needed to change my strategy. I put myself in the shoes of one of the interviewers from one of my many rejections. I imagined myself answering a series of questions, and pretended to be the interviewer responding to myself. This helped me empathize with the interviewer; and, more importantly, I could see more clearly why I didn’t move along in the process.
With this reflection, I changed my recruiting strategy. I decided to apply to strategy roles because I realized I wasn’t an easy fit for PM – or at least, it wasn’t obvious to the hiring team that I would be able to hit the ground running with my past experience. Once I changed my strategy, I started landing interviews. Finally, in March, I received an offer from Google. Reflection and empathy helped me process the rejection and act on it productively rather than dwelling on why I wasn’t good enough.
Lastly, perspective is fundamental to rising above rejection. What I mean by perspective might not be what you think. It’s a sister to manifestation in a way. I am an aspiring CEO – in one of my previous blogs, I talk about why I’m interested in that route. With that in mind, I imagine myself as CEO and all of the rejection and scrutiny I will face. If I’m going to be a successful CEO, I’m going to have to have tough skin. I keep perspective when I’m rejected, and remind myself that I am only getting stronger and therefore becoming a better CEO. When you’re rejected, keep perspective on what that rejection means for you in the long-run… probably bupkis, it’s a blip in your career unless you let it consume you. Remember who you want to be, and make rejection work for you. Rise above it.