A good friend has been in a rut since leaving his job nearly a year ago. He’s smart, driven, has worked at well-regarded companies, and has attended prestigious schools. To boot, he is one of the most amiable, generous people you’ll meet. Yet he’s struggled find the next step in his path and often feels hopeless and underqualified. Why?
He’s a master at the art of self-sabotage. And one of his most useful tools for doing so is LinkedIn.
He logs on looking for ideas and inspiration. He hopes to connect with those who share similar interests, or at the least see where others with similar backgrounds are doing. But he ends up “comparing and despairing.”
It’s hard not to. As soon as you log on to LinkedIn, you see headlines in your feed like, “Congratulate Jamie for being promoted to VP of Something Pretty Important,” or “Congratulate Brooke for starting a new job as a Senior Bigwig.” You don’t recall why you logged on in the first place, and you start clicking on people’s profiles, maybe initially out of idle curiosity — hmm, wonder what so-and-so has been up to? After a few minutes of clicking around, you conclude: Everyone has been kicking ass but me.
You didn’t log on to become envious, but you log off feeling less worthy, less satisfied with yourself, and less motivated. But you don’t realize that you were subject to an illusion that planted a narrative in your head that isn’t true.
You are sabotaging yourself by comparing your insides to other people’s highly curated outsides.
LinkedIn is a resume showcase, not a guidance counselor. People are putting forth their best effort to sound impressive. It shows only the few visible successes, not the many invisible failures and rejections. It also does not show the internal struggle, the uncertainty, the worry, and the self-doubt that each individual faced when coming to a decision.
As a professional social network, LinkedIn doesn’t command the same sort of attention or devotion that its social counterparts Facebook and Instagram do, but its effect on your health may be just as pernicious. On Facebook, you may think, “Life’s not fair. Other people are having fun and enjoying life and I’m not.” But on LinkedIn, you think, “I’m not good enough. Other people are better at what they do than I am. I’ll never get there.” You’re likely to attribute other people’s successes to their talent, skill, and calculated planning, as opposed to luck or trial-and-error. And you’re likely to forget that everyone has their own insecurities and trip-ups.
You begin to doubt your ability, which leads to lower self-esteem and less appetite for risk. You become afraid to put yourself out there, to give yourself a chance. That creates a downward spiral.
A few brave souls have noticed the incongruity between what is visible (i.e., the successes presented on social media) versus what’s invisible (i.e., the many failures and rejections interspersed in the successes), and they’ve been bold enough to share a list of their failures. Here you can see the failure CV of a Princeton professor, and here you’ll find the resume of an entrepreneur who shares a list of “dreams she lost on the finish line.”
And below, I’ll add a few of my own failures to the mix.
Some of My Failures (So Far)
This is just the list of professional failures and rejections that I happen to remember. The list of personal ones is much longer. For comparison, here is what my “outsides” look like on LinkedIn.
When I was younger, “failure” or “rejection” had mostly a social connotation, meaning that I didn’t receive some kind of external affirmation, like getting getting into certain schools or not winning some competition. And as I got older, “failure” increasingly meant that I had not lived up to an internal standard, and internal standards are a lot more nuanced.
So, without further ado:
- 2004. Not many people know this, but I got in off the waitlist at Princeton. I didn’t apply to Stanford because I thought I wouldn’t have a chance (too many Asians in California for me to stand out, I told myself). I didn’t apply to Columbia because I was scared of New York as a concept. (I grew up in Mississippi.)
- 2004–2008. In college, I was elected to be a representative of our freshman class, mostly on the merit of the slogan, “Let the Sunshine Yin.” Every week on Sunday night, we had a meeting with representatives from all the classes. I was so intimidated by all the upperclassmen that I found it hard to utter a single word during any of the meetings. Seriously, if the minutes from the meetings still exist in some archive, you’ll see that I spoke a handful of syllables all year long. Still, for some reason, I decided to run for Vice-President of our class the next year. I lost that election.
- 2008. I applied to a huge number of consulting firms. Here are just a few that rejected me in the final round: BCG, McKinsey, Katzenbach, LEK Consulting, and many more that I can’t remember.
- 2009. The first time I took the LSAT, I choked on the first question in the first section and ended up cancelling my score.
- 2010. Here are the law schools I didn’t get into: Yale, Berkeley, Stanford, and probably some others I don’t recall.
- 2011. I spent months on my application for the Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and didn’t get it.
- 2012. I was rejected from many law firms, and their names now escape me — two that I recall are Williams & Connolly and Orrick.
- 2013. I ran a study and wrote a paper on the empirical value of an apology in settlement decision-making. I put my heart and soul into this study. I submitted this paper to the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, to the ABA Alternative Dispute Writing Competition, to the Boskey Dispute Resolution Essay Competition, and for the Fisher and Sander Prize. It was rejected by all of them.
- 2014–2015. I failed to craft a sustainable work/life balance for myself as a lawyer. I failed to demand work that I love. I failed to push back when I wasn’t treated with the respect I deserve.
- 2015. I applied to a Trust & Safety position at AirBnb and never heard back. I also thought about going in-house at Google and was told I didn’t have enough years of experience.
- 2015 — . I’m now an engineer. Here are just a handful of companies I didn’t receive offers from: Google, Facebook, Clever, SimplyHired (I bombed this interview so hard they cancelled my last interview of the day). *If you’re curious about my transition from law to code, you can read about it here.
The next time you find yourself “comparing and despairing,” I hope you’ll recall some of my failures and that you’ll feel better about yourself. Maybe you’ll feel emboldened to take a risk that you might not otherwise take. Remember that what’s visible is just what was chosen to be presented on the outside, and that’s never the whole story.
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