I’m in the process of finally submitting at least a decade’s worth of short stories to literary journals for possible publication. “Possible” is the operative word, as I can report no success so far. As the rejection e-mails pile up (tracked meticulously so I know exactly where every story was submitted and rejected), it’s easy to get demoralized and give up. I realize, however, that it’s worth continuing to try.
Rejection is hard even when the person, or people, rejecting you are not personal relations. “It’s nothing personal,” is the oft-repeated refrain. And that’s true—except it doesn’t always feel that way, especially when the rejection happens in an office setting in which you do, in fact, personally know the people who rejected you.
Like my creative writing, if you don’t try, you won’t get ahead in the corporate world. If you don’t apply for the position you are interested in, there usually is no chance you will get it. There are exceptions if you have well-trained managers in your organization who have been trained to encourage promising employees to apply for new positions, or consider them even without them applying. However, that doesn’t happen as often as employees getting passed over because they didn’t apply. You can’t count on a manager, or anyone else, to look out for you.
With rejection such a searing and sad sensation, is rejection durability training a good idea? If it is, how could it be done?
The first idea that comes to mind is to have the most successful executives at your company share their stories of rejection with entry- and mid-level employees. It could be part of an annual program on advancement opportunities to encourage internal promotions. Every year, a different executive would be the keynote speaker, telling a true story of rejection from their career, including how they continued persevering and, when necessary, recalibrated to do better.
I found an article in Entrepreneur by Melissa Dawn on “How to Gracefully Handle and Then Make the Most of Professional Rejection.” She encourages the rejected not to “burn bridges.” That means no storming into a manager’s office and screaming or crying, or walking out on the job—no matter how much you want to. Once, when it looked like I was primed to be passed over for a job that was rightfully mine, I was so upset I wanted to immediately resign and walk out. Instead, I took a (very) deep breath, and wrote a cool and calm e-mail to my boss, his boss, and a few other executives, letting them know I was disappointed that I didn’t appear to be on the list of candidates for the job I wanted to move into. I let them know why I was the most qualified and that I would be reassessing my professional future if I was passed over for the promotion. I didn’t say I would quit (because I knew I couldn’t afford to do that), but they got the idea. It worked! I got the job. When it’s a done deal and the job has already been awarded to another person, you could use the disappointment to facilitate a conversation about your professional future, and express concern that you are not getting the opportunities you were hoping for. The manager may realize they made a mistake overlooking you and find ways of making it up to you, so a valuable employee doesn’t walk out the door. So it’s worth training employees to not only go after new jobs within the company, but to have conversations with hiring managers when it doesn’t go their way.
Dawn says it’s important to “give yourself time to grieve.” I would say, based on my own experience, it’s good to grieve, but it’s good to do so while continuing to push forward and act. As the rejections of my writing come in, it’s tempting to stop applying for publication to make the pain go away, but I’ve learned to work through the pain, and, as if on auto-pilot, continue, uninterrupted, to submitting work—and continue writing. There will always be new work available from me to reject!
There will always be new work from me because creative writing is something I truly want to do, and would do even if I knew none of it would ever get published. Dawn says you should use rejection as “an opportunity to learn.” Sometimes that can mean learning that an area of work you have a passion for is not right for you, and sometimes it can mean that you need to do the work differently. Sometimes it means it’s work you can continue to pursue in your personal life for your own enjoyment, but professionally (to earn a living and build a career) you should look in other places.
Managers can be trained to support employees through rejection, so they find opportunities they are much less likely to be rejected from, and where they can make both themselves and the company happy by doing great work.
Do you prepare both managers and employees to handle professional rejection? What are the key lessons to learn about managing rejection, so employees can continue progressing in their careers?