A Pile of Papers helps illustrate a story about rejection.

What If We Rethink How We Experience Rejection?

Here’s my question for the day – “What If We Rethink How We Experience Rejection?”

I attended a writer’s conference years ago and signed up for a workshop titled “Addressing Writer’s Block.” The speaker was an established author who earned his living as a writer, so I thought he probably had some wisdom worth sharing.

During the session, he revealed what he felt was the root cause of writer’s block — the fear of rejection whether he experienced it after reading a biting review or after receiving a publisher’s rejection letter. He was incredibly forthcoming about his triggers and coping mechanisms, but what I found invaluable was the visual he provided. 

The writer described his writing space and how he set up his computer, and how his shelves were lined with his published works. He then described having a very tall column of paper that measured almost six feet tall in the right corner directly behind his writing chair. The tower consisted of every rejection letter he had ever received. Some letters contained curt, one-line sentences. Others included helpful suggestions about his work and a hope-inspiring phrase to “circle back when you’ve fixed the book.” Still other letters were standard templates that included some variation of the legal department’s vetted phrase “your work is not right for us. Don’t call us.”

The writer went on to say that he had created this Leaning Tower of Feedback so that he could remind himself every day that rejection was inevitable and that it had helped him produce the published articles and books that lined his bookshelves.

He acknowledged that while he had come to accept that rejection as one of the cornerstones of a writer’s life, it didn’t make experiencing rejection any easier. He owned up to the fact that many times these rejection letters shook his confidence and made him question his voice, style, and abilities. Sometimes he would think “Maybe I should just pack it in and do something else.”

But this writer had devised a rejection recovery process just like he had developed his creative writing method. He gave himself permission to react and “mourn” the contents of the letter as he placed it on the top of the tower. Then he said that the most important thing he did next was to reflect and think about what he could learn from the response. This was especially important if the sender had taken the time to write constructive comments and suggestions. Next, he scheduled the amount of time he could devote to “being rejected” and taking a restorative, mind-clearing break. He also shared that one of the things that helped him the most when he caught himself in a rejection funk, was to reach out to his support network of mentors and fellow writers who understood the creative process, were good listeners, and appreciated his skills. Their most important attributes were their ability to give him a verbal nudge or shove to help becoming “unstuck.” Lastly, he said the best thing he could do for himself was to power up his computer, begin and keep moving forward. 

I’ve thought about that “Tower of Rejection” many times over the years. I have realized that this writer gave his audience an important gift. He let us know that being rejected didn’t have anything to do with being good at something or competent.

Readers — When you are preparing to make a role change, you’re at a crucial stage in your learning process. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you move forward with this job search and interview process:

The post-interview analysis matters. If you watch sports, you have seen how much time and money the networks devote to post-game analysis. Reviewing your interview experience is an important, crucial part of the process. Engage with a coach and trusted resources at this stage. Their critical listening skills and insights will help you interpret your interview experience with fresh eyes. They will help you test your theories and assumptions.

  • Job interview rejections are not personal. That point was easier to write than it is live it.  There are many reasons that you were not considered. MANY times, the reasons have nothing to do with you. For example, after leading talent acquisition for many organizations, I can tell you that sometimes an internal candidate is selected, and the external search was used to validate the decision. 
  • Assemble your support team. Identify one or two people who you can count on to have your back and then give that back a little nudge or push if needed.
  • Circle back with thank you note and emails. This might be the last thing you want to do. However, writing a note that expresses your appreciation and continued interest in the department, organization, recruiter or hiring manager keeps the door open. If you can, ask for feedback that will enhance your personal development and learning process. Keep your correspondence upbeat and positive. Note — You may not receive details about your interview. The fact that you asked for feedback is what makes this action self-empowering.
  • Connect on LinkedIn. Recruiters and hiring managers keep track of people who made a positive impression – and try. They keep viable candidates on file. LinkedIn gives them another way to find you and keep track of your progress.
  • Tell yourself “I will use this experience for something.” Take notes about what you will learn to do /not do during your next interview. 
  • Keep your energy up. Do positive things like attaching this quote to your wall.  “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett