Oooh, this post stings to write.
The truth is that I don’t like to talk about how being rejected makes me feel, or even think very much about times when I’ve been rejected. It brings back all those icky, uncomfortable feelings: shame, disappointment, resentment, self-doubt. We’ve all been turned down before – whether professionally or personally – but the universality of the experience doesn’t make it pleasant.
The truth is, I still sometimes struggle with handling rejection – I think almost everybody grapples with rejection at some level, no matter how often they encounter it.
Certainly, nobody ENJOYS being rejected. It’s fundamentally not a feel-good experience. It hurts when you’re 7 years old and looking at a little crush’s circled NO on a DO YOU LIKE ME? note, and it hurts when you’re a grown-up and looking at a polite thanks-but-no-thanks letter.
This post is about how to deal with rejection in a constructive way… or, at the very least, not let it hinder you from pursuing your goals.
Try (yes, try) not to take it personally
So easy to say, so hard to do.
Listen, there are a thousand reasons why you may not be the best fit for X job at X time. Some of those factors are controllable (that’s why we try our best to have a strong portfolio and look halfway human at interviews) and some are not. If they are getting pressure from above to hire someone with an academic background and you don’t have one, you might not get the job. Heck, if you reminded your interviewer unpleasantly of Mitch in elementary school (and Mitch pounded the snot out of him from grades 1-4), you’re not going to get the job.
Join the nation's largest group representing the new workforce (it's free!)
Rejection lies in many factors, including subconscious decisions and illogical judgments. Try not to take it as a personal evaluation. If you’re pretty sure that your materials are strong and that you’re doing your best (and yes, always try to keep improving and refine your work), don’t obsess about why you weren’t the right fit. Keep going.
Think of it this way: if you were interviewing people for a job, you’d know that most of your “rejections” were based purely on business decisions. It’s only when you’re the one being rejected that it feels personal.
Practice really helps
In addition to being a writer, I’m also an actor – in fact, it’s my first profession! And you know what absolutely all professional actors get to become really good at? Constant rejection.
The first time I ever didn’t get a part, it was a cue to hurl myself on the bed and cry my little eyes out (this is requisite behavior for actresses). The hundredth time, I shrugged and got a latte.
All freelancers can learn from actors and artists, who are CONSTANTLY rejected because it’s a crazily overcrowded field. Even the most sensitive among us can build a thick skin – but it takes a few calluses to get there.
The more often you try, fail, and move past those little failures, the more you’ll see that rejection itself is not the enemy; that’s just an unavoidable function of the system. Fear of rejection – the kind of fear that paralyzes you and stops you from working towards your dreams – is the real enemy.
Reframe it as often as possible
If you are being rejected, you are TRYING, and that is progress.
Try looking at rejection – even the painful and cruddy rejections – as proof that you are brave, that you are working towards your goals, that you are learning. Think of rejections as the inevitable hitches in your training montage – you know, the sped-up part of the movie wherein the hero gets big and buff.
You don’t have to love rejection. You don’t have to keep a sunny, bulletproof attitude all the time. Sometimes you need to sulk and cry and temporarily wallow in the pain of disappointment. I think refusing to EVER feel those feelings leads to crazy-eyed, emotionally brittle behavior and eventual burnout. But occasionally reframing “rejection” as a sign of forward momentum can help you move past the worst hurts – using that pain to build strength and resilience.
Listen, I’m not an infallible expert on handling rejection gracefully; I still, occasionally, have to find hope glimmering at the bottom of an ice cream carton (mint chocolate chip tastes like redemption). But integrating these attitudes into my life has helped me get BETTER at dealing with it, and prevented me from letting rejection stop me. It’s not always easy – but someday, my training montage is gonna be amazing.
Freelancers, how do you deal with (inevitable) rejection?
Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.