Rejection has been a steady force in my life. Throughout my adolescence, I experienced it, whether it was with my first dance studio, or my friends, or even with the schools I applied for in college. It remained a steady then and beyond, ensuring that I never felt like I truly belonged. It left me high and dry post-college as I wondered what my next steps were, and it has taunted me to doubt my ambition and my capabilities at every turn.
Perhaps the most significant rejections in my professional career so far were consecutive: two internships, one just before graduation and one immediately after, reshaped the way I viewed myself, the job opportunities that I pursued, and the way in which I viewed the professional world.
During the summer of 2015, I interned with a Fortune 100 company. I accepted a position within the content marketing department, excited for such a prestigious opportunity and eager to understand the corporate world. I quickly learned that the corporate world moves slowly, and creativity lives at a higher level than the interns — if not with the external agencies that contribute to the corporate teams.
An outside-the-box thinker, my creativity has always fueled a desire to do well and get things done. I am fond of finding the path of least resistance, and value efficiency second only to the timely execution of good work. I moved quickly and got my work done hours before the end of each day, continually pestering my manager for more work. As I suggested creative concepts to my team, they were shot down with hesitations about compliance, brand linearity, and other reasons that I now understand were valid. At the time, I felt as if I were drowning in a world in which I most certainly did not belong. I had no desire to return. In all the ancient wisdom that a 20-year-old possesses, I turned down the placement opportunity I was to receive within the company upon graduation.
I earned my degree in December of 2015, and took on an internship in early 2016 with a branding agency out of Houston. I was determined to land a job that grew my inner artist. I was only at this job for four months, turning down an internship extension that I was offered (with nothing lined up behind it — again, utilizing that ancient 20-year-old wisdom). Needless to say, I did not do well amidst a world of creatives.
By nature, the creatives I was surrounded by were particular, always executing great work, but struggling to educate those around them on their process. There was a significant pride of authorship among them, and my knack for timely execution did not pair well with their artistry. I found myself attracted to the account managers and the business operators. After declining a corporate opportunity in pursuit of creative chops, I was alarmed by my natural instinct for the very thing I had passed up. I left the internship with my head hung low, uncertain of who I was meant to be.
In the few months that passed, I reached a low point. Corporate was too stringent, but the creative I had experienced was, surprisingly, too insular. I was lost, and I laid in bed all day and gained weight without any real purpose in my life. At the end of the summer, I finally received an opportunity with a local oil and gas firm. Though this job would usher me into some of the most difficult trials of my life thus far, it was there where I first began to flourish. This job and the bosses I had within it beautifully prepared me for what was coming next. And when I left, I was ready to bloom.
You might believe that these stories don’t truly embody rejection — mainly because I still had opportunities that I ultimately turned down. Rejection isn’t always a flat-out no. Sometimes, it manifests itself in a tremendous sense of unbelonging, even if the opportunity remains. I believe that this definition helped me to understand that much of the time, I control the narrative surrounding rejection.
It’s funny — two days before graduation, I defended my undergraduate thesis (known as a “Project of Excellence,” and a requirement to receive Honors Program accolades) in front of my family, friends, classmates, and three professors: my favorite English professor, the Honors Program headmaster, and my beloved business professor. Just after I was awarded my medal, my business professor pulled my father aside. “Your daughter is going to be someone great someday,” he confided. “As soon as she can figure out who it is that she wants to be.”
The rejections that have outlined my life have helped me decide who I want to be. They have helped me set my own narrative, and seek out the places where I belong. While I still have a long way to go, rejection continues to enhance my resilience. It continues to grow my grace.
From a general perspective, rejection has taught me how to be selective of the people with whom I associate. Simultaneously, though, rejection has taught me to be supportive, loyal, and encouraging for those with whom I choose to spend my time. It has taught me to be an advocate for the underdog, to help those in need, to serve others with kindness and generosity.
It has taught me how to be a better daughter, sister, girlfriend, classmate, coworker, teammate, cousin, friend — human. It has taught me how to be a better human. When you are abruptly faced with unbelonging, you encounter a pain with which you only have two options for dealing: exacting it upon others, or ensuring no one ever feels that way at your hands.
I have chosen, and actively choose each day, the latter. It is that decision that continues to make me better across the board.
I read a wonderful blog the other day about productivity. Within it was a powerful quote by Will Durant: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I have been fortunate to experience a great many rejections, each of which have instilled habitual excellence in me — through the driven repetition of a chip on my shoulder that says, I will rise above.
My boss and I often joke about the anecdotal trope, “bloom where you’re planted.” We hate how stupid it sounds. We also hate its accuracy. But rejection has taught me a great many things, among which is the ability (one that I am still honing) to bloom where I am planted. Ugh. Eye roll. But really.
Rejection is a necessity because it corrects my path, pushing me along as if I am a pinball knocking against its barriers until I reach my goal. It is a blessing because it has helped me decide who I want to be. And it is a gift because it has taught me to push through on the things that I know belong to me, even if they attempt to reject me the first time. Because now, I set my own narrative.
Rejection is inevitable. It will strike me down each time I rise, like a viper nested in the burrows of self-doubt. I am learning to celebrate the lessons it brings. I am learning to adjust and modify until I am bobbing and weaving my way past that viper, and onto the next one. There will always be a “next one.” But my ability to modify is my ability to defeat its ramifications.
I win when I am grateful. And I remain grateful, because rejection continues to be the best thing that has ever happened to me.