…I didn’t get a job because the manager said I was “too much.” How that statement has impacted me 4 years later.

When I was 22 years old, I had just embarked on the journey that many young 20-something’s set foot upon. I was in search of my first “big girl job” post-college. I was eager, energetic, and antsy to get my foot in the door and tackle the next chapter of my life. And let’s be real, the thought of having my own business card was the icing on the cake [oh how naive we can be].

I had been interviewing for several rounds with a major design firm in the Bay Area that I had always admired (I’ve decided to keep it nameless. For now). Finally, it was time for the in person interview. I went in and felt a real connection with both hiring managers I met with. So much so that they started asking me about my personal life, probing further into my love for writing poetry and a few other things. I left feeling great. Not overly assured of myself, but confident. A few days later I got the call from the recruiter letting me know their final decision. That conversation went a little like this:

“ So… I’m so sorry Naseem but you didn’t get the job, the hiring managers decided to pass on you.”

“Really? Wow, I did not see that coming. Did they give any reasons why?”

“Yes, and I hate to be the one to have to say this. They simply said, ‘We think she’s just too much.’ ”

… Silence on my end.

Too much? Too much how — like I talked too much? Did I look a certain way? What does that mean? I immediately began over analyzing every bit and piece of my conversation with them. It just felt off because this wasn’t a rejection based on my lack of experience or some interview question I happened to bomb. This came off as a blow to my personality; who I am as a person. It took a while for me to get over my initial shock, ego being bruised, and confusion surrounding the whole thing.

Flash forward a few weeks and I ended up with an amazing job at the other company I was simultaneously interviewing with. Looking back, I can’t even imagine taking this first job and working with the company who rejected me because of all the invaluable experience I gained at the place I ended up. The friendships I made, the way I started building a foundation for myself working in tech, and the amount I grew as a person by being thrown into the environment I was in. I wish I could end the story here and conclude this with the “blessing in disguise” moral. Maybe chalk it up to God closing one door and opening another. Sure, I definitely believe that. But this moment of life impacted me more than I ever thought.

And it took almost 5 years for me to realize it.

Our words have power. It’s as simple as that. They say it takes something like 8 compliments to negate 1 negative statement. I believe it. Over the next few years following this exchange, I began to notice subtle changes in myself. I started apologizing a lot more for things that didn’t warrant one. I would start off emails at work with, “I just wanted to…” — as if I needed to apologize and add a disclaimer as to why I was bothering a co-worker with an email.

I went from being someone who loved telling stories in exquisite, animated detail to someone who waited until she was asked a question directly before saying a word.

I made an active effort to “tone it down.”

I am by no means a loud person, but I’m an extravert (meaning, I get the majority of my energy from being around people; especially those I feel myself with). I considered myself the life of the party; someone who lived for hosting big events and being the first to get everyone on the dance floor when we’d go out. Someone who liked voicing their opinion; whether it be about a political issue, my spirituality, or a TV show I’d been obsessing over. I liked getting into those heated talks. They sparked something in me.

Little by little though, I simply toned everything down. I sit here now at 26, almost 27, and my eyes are so opened to what has happened. I allowed one statement to slowly shape and mold who I was. I let insecurity get the best of me. I believed a label that was placed on me and in a very self-fulfilling-prophesy sort of way, I started becoming that person.

We’re stuck in this vortex sometimes, especially as women, where we’re fighting between not ever being enough (not pretty enough to get the guy we want/ not accomplished enough to get that raise), and being too much. I immediately found myself stuck in this box, unsure how to break out.

Let’s jump to this year. The last 8 months or so have been some of the most life changing times for me in a personal sense. One, the things that were important to me in my early 20’s are far gone and I’m simply in a new, more mature season of my life. Priorities have changed. The allure of certain things has now really just dimmed down. Two, I’ve gone through several huge highs and lows that have resulted in major perspective changes for me. And the one I want to focus on with this story specifically is this:

You don’t need to apologize for who you are.

You don’t need to please anyone.

You are not living for anyone or any external circumstance (a job, a title, a relationship, etc).

You definitely won’t be liked by everyone. Even someone you once considered a close friend might not be in your corner some day.

Once we cut off those strings of expectation, pride, and insecurity we stop allowing others to define us. That’s when living can actually begin.

What I’ve realized is that there is so much beauty in being wild and free.

No, I don’t mean wild like being reckless, careless, or “YOLO” — but living out your truth unapologetically. Living with purpose. Living with character. Living a life of loving others and being kind, expecting nothing back (yep, that’s the hard part).

I’ve decided I don’t have time for the internal monologue anymore. “Does she like me?” “Do they approve?” “Am I presenting myself correctly?” I’ve made an active decision not to allow my mind to even go there. It takes action on our part.

So to bring it all full circle, it took 5 years of living life with hints of doubt about who I was, to finally coming to a point of having enough and wanting to be myself again. The me who was never scared to laugh too loud. The me who loved going above and beyond to make sure everyone was having a good time. The me who was supposedly too much; well, too much for some people but just enough for the only One who matters.

As human beings we’re brought up in this way that promotes us to showcase our best possible selves. The done-up, filtered, nothing-can-hurt-me side of ourselves. Vulnerability is something that’s been categorized under the “weakness” tab. That saddens me so much. For me, when I see that layer of vulnerability in someone or when our conversation goes to that deeper level, I see the real them. I think that’s why I was so eager to share this story to begin with. I want to let people know it’s ok to express their hurts, their turning point moments, and their revelations. We’re all on this wild ride in hopes of continuously growing, right?

While I absolutely do not condone bashing someone’s personality as a reason for not offering them a job, in a way this experience has allowed me to think a whole lot. Which wasn’t always the best, as I’m sure you’ve gathered up to this point. But it led to really and truly accepting myself. Unapologetically. And I needed to do that for myself. We all do. Otherwise we’ll get tossed back and forth by every blanket judgment thrown our way. I finally had this moment quite recently of a weight being lifted off; it felt both physical and mental. I’ve never felt so liberated.

It’s with the utmost humility that now I can confidently smile and say, “I’m too much for you? Your loss.”