Lessons In Rejection

At the end of last week I applied for this job. It was, by all accounts, a dream. Work remotely, on your own schedule, from wherever you want? Sure. Do interesting work and never have two identical days? Lovely. Have fascinating and intelligent people as your colleagues? Ideal. Talk to a bucket load of people and make a big impact on other’s lives? Sounds glorious.

After seeing the advertisement, I was excited. Immediately, I wrote some thoughts about why I was a great match down in my notebook. Then I sent my girlfriend a message telling her about this fucking awesome job and how I was applying for it right now and how it would change my life. She read the description and sent me a text saying “that job is you”. Boy, that felt good. The stars have aligned. This is perfect. I love life right now.

I had to film a video. One of my close friends is a stud at video production, but he just started a new job and wasn’t here. I messaged another close friend. We agreed to get some videos shot the next day. Preparation begins. Using the notes I made earlier, I worked on five reasons why I’d be perfect for the role. It’s late evening now. I go to sleep. It takes me longer than usual to drift off. My mind won’t stop thinking and extrapolating about the possibilities.

Morning. I spend it practicing my video and trying to cut it to under two minutes. I’m nervous and don’t want to sound too robotic and prepared. I play around with the order and wording. I try to let my excitement and sincerity come through. My friend arrives and we get through five or six attempts. Not good enough. He comes back later that day. We shoot a few more. One feels good. I was clear and honest. He emails me the video and I send off my application. (Thanks G!)

Five days later. Early morning. I’ve had my coffee and I’m sat reading Robert Caro’s majestic Lyndon Johnson biography. I finish the chapter and decide to check my emails. An email from Tucker Max. I didn’t get through to the next round. Sky falls. Apocalyptic scenarios capture my imagination. I’m done reading for the morning. What the fuck do I do now?

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I sit back and close my eyes. I let the disappointment and the sadness flow over me. My mind turns to other dream jobs I didn’t get. I think about the book I’m writing. I think about the coaching I’m starting to do at LDN. I read the email Tucker has sent. It’s lengthy. It’s also incredibly detailed and honest about the process and why certain decisions were made. I read it again. The sadness and disappointment continues to flow over me. But it feels different now. I think about philosophy, and Stoicism. How I can use this rejection to my advantage?

In the next half an hour, I head downstairs. I re-read the job advertisement. I re-read the rejection email. I watch the video I sent in. I pull my journal towards me and write this: “Lessons from rejection at Book in a Box.”

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Below, I have transcribed what I wrote in my journal, essentially word for word. I’ve done this for several reasons. Firstly, it’s my way of moving past the failure and accepting it. Secondly, I think it might help others who didn’t get the dream jobs they applied for. Thirdly, I wanted to do it as an indirect thank you to Tucker and the team at Book in a Box for the valuable lessons I’ve learned.

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Lessons from rejection at Book in a Box

Confront your successes and failures while they are still tender and sore, while you are still vulnerable and the wounds are open.

Nassim Taleb: “The modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”

#1. Never take rejection personally. The company/organisation/individual has to do what’s in their best interests. It was not in their best interest to hire you. Deal with it.

#2. To any thought that resembles this: “if they only knew x about me, if they only knew I’d done y, if they only knew how much I love z, they’d hire me for sure.” Everyone who has ever been rejected has thoughts like these. It’s your responsibility to make sure they know x, y and z about you. You fucked up.

#3. You can’t fake energy, sincerity or excitement. And to let it show through, you must be willing to be vulnerable, to be open, to be honest. Maybe you weren’t. Maybe you didn’t show them the real you. That was unwise.

#4. You weren’t perceptive enough. You didn’t take the time and expend the effort to really understand what they were looking for. You focused more on why you wanted it, than what they were looking for. Thus you didn’t fully examine why you were a good candidate for the role. Fatal (and elementary) mistake.

#5. This was your “dream job”, and you didn’t get it. So what? If you focus on abundance instead of scarcity, you’ll realise there will be more opportunities. Make sure you are prepared for them. This preparation starts long before the opportunity arises. Real life is not a zero-sum game. Chin up. Keep learning. Keep evolving.

#6. A useful way to frame the process: what questions are they asking of the candidate? Am I giving them the right answers?

#7. If you neglect the little details, you are exhibiting your inability to pay attention. The supposedly tiny and insignificant details matter. They will be noticed. Don’t neglect them.

#8. Be different, but not too different. If the company is intelligent, they’re not going to hire you because you did something fucking crazy. They will hire based on merit. Show yours. Be really fucking good.

#9. Allow yourself to be sad and upset. This is natural. But recognise this. The faster you move from dejection to honest analysis, the more rapidly you can benefit from the new knowledge you’ve gained about yourself.

#10. What if you can’t move on and accept the rejection? Then you were attaching too much to your small chance of success. It’s your responsibility to have alternatives, contingencies and other options.

#11. After you’re done analysing, questioning, soul-searching, confronting and embracing the rejection, say thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the feedback. Thank you for the lessons in rejection.

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It’s two hours after I got rejected. I’ve thought about why it happened and what I can learn from the experience. Turns out I can learn a lot. A few weeks ago I wrote about discomfort, and uncertainty and the idea of amor fati — loving what happens to you. Sure, landing the position would have made the attainment of my goals easier. Or not. I’ll never know. And this isn’t the first “dream job” I’ve applied for and not got. Maybe that’s my problem. I wrote this several months ago:

“If you’re waiting for the green light from someone, holding out for the approval and blessing of a certain individual, you are being your own biggest impediment. Your ability to develop is dependent on your willingness to favour action over permission, a willingness to test your own limits and a willingness to play the cards as they fall.
Your progress is your responsibility.
No one else’s.
Start living like it.”

Perhaps I’d move closer to the realisation of my ambitions if I spent less time looking for dream jobs, from dream companies, with dream colleagues, and more time relentlessly working on accomplishing my own.