How To Be Rejected
Updated: Oct 9, 2018
If we are lucky, we grow up being told that we are perfect, brilliant and talented at everything we do. Parents try to create a world for their children in which everything is fair, where hard work and good will are always rewarded with success. But as we move into adult life, rejection becomes real and constant. And, in the midst of it all, we compare our own lives - dud parties, shit jobs, dodgy dates - to the News Feed of engagements, job offers and glamorous world travel.
Tom, in his final year of university, began the application cycle for jobs in management consultancy, which he found to be a gruelling process. “Applications for some companies are in the hundreds, so chances of success were slim at best…” As the negative responses flooded in, Tom decided to stick every single one onto a bulletin board in his bedroom.
“Instead of seeing the relentless rejection as a negative thing, I thought I’d own it and see it as a positive. I just thought it would be unusual and different to flip the experience of rejection on its head. I thought I could be a good motivational technique, a way to remind myself of the journey I was on, and all the resilience I had. I also thought it could make a really great anecdote for my autobiography or biography”.
Tom was inspired by many famous entrepreneurs whose success was motivated by their own rejections. “Like Elon Musk - not that I’m comparing myself to Elon Musk - but the reason he started a tech company was that no other company would accept him.”
In total, Tom applied for about 25 jobs. “After around 22 or 23 rejections, I was thinking this is possibly the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. I was just documenting my failure.” But, by the end of his project, he ended up with two offers. He uploaded a picture of his ‘rejection wall’ to Facebook and it received a huge reaction: “the most likes I’ve ever had”. (I can confirm, begrudgingly, it is more than double than my highest number too).
“Of course, all of my close friends knew what was going on. But when I uploaded the photo to Facebook, I wanted slightly less close friends to see it, who might be leaving university and in quite a similar boat. I thought it would be encouraging to someone else, even after so many rejections, you can “succeed” in the process of finding a job, and hopefully that’s given someone some kind of encouragement going forward.”
I wondered why a photo like this was so rare on my newsfeed. Why do we find it so hard to make our feelings public, to own our experience of rejection? “Any negative comments, for anyone with a less than perfect positive self-concept, will resonate.”
“Our generation is the most depressed of all the generations that have come before. We all project this glamorised, artificial version of our lives when the reality is quite different. The times when you are looking through news feeds relentlessly are also the times when you are by yourself and probably feeling pretty low, which is obviously the worst time to see how good everyone else’s lives are.”
Tom doesn’t think social media has any kind of appeal any more. “I’ve moved away from using Facebook a lot – I don’t really like that aspect of it. More, being honest, I realised that if I’m going to have any Facebook or social media presence, it should be a really good one. I don’t have the time or commitment to create this fantastic, artificial version of my life.”
Of course, rejection is always going to be a Bad Thing and attach itself to our psyche. It’s this kind of reflection that makes us human. And, indeed, fear of this kind of blow can be a good thing. Without it, we’d be that raving loon you avoid outside the tube station. But we should be able to own these experiences, to twist them into something productive. There’s a power in repackaging rejection in this way, turning 23 disappointments into a few scrappy bits of A4 paper stuck to a bulletin board. Doing so makes it seem perverse and silly to care so much at all.
Millennials are often called ‘snowflakes’ by right-wing media, and the metaphor is apt. We feel, often because it has been drilled into us by our parents, that we are unique. But, like snowflakes, we are also delicate, prone to self-criticism and comparison.
Much has been written on the ways we use social media to project a skewed, rose-tinted narrative of our lives. But perhaps we should use these platforms not to project how easy our lives are, but how we have navigated and overcome the difficulties.
Tom's motivation for the photo is clear. “I just wanted the picture to be a small drop of realism in an otherwise slightly diluted newsfeed of artificial positivity.”
I asked if Tom had any final comments. He had just one request. He asked me to remove his last name from the article. “I’ve just left this job, and I’m now looking for something else, so I don’t really want my name on there. Because maybe future recruiters might find it and be like ‘this guy’s a reject! Don’t want to employ him!’
Illustrated by Sophie Traugut