No one will ever live life without facing rejection. It hurts most when the rejection is related to something you’ve put your heart and soul into, something that significantly impacts your life, or something that directly involves your future. So usually, rejection in your career stings the most (that and your love life).
It’s also hardest to take career rejection in stride — like when you hear or read that eloquently worded email that basically boils down to one word: “No.”
Rejection is normal in everyday life and feeling hurt a little (or even a lot) is likewise a normal reaction. When it comes to career rejection, however, sometimes people tend to think they’re “not good enough” when in reality, the fact is that they “weren’t a good fit.” And no, that’s not just recruitment euphemism.
It’s like when a square applies for a circle’s job. I literally isn’t a good fit.
Of course, there’s no denying the truth that sometimes, the truth really is that you’re “not good enough.” In this case it’s more like a square applying for the job of an octagon — there weren’t enough corners.
Regardless, rejection hurts, period. Yet career rejection doesn’t mean a full stop in terms of growth, the same way rejection in other areas of your life doesn’t mean your life ends there. A healthy psychological way to address and cope with rejection is straightforward:
You need to understand the facts of the rejection to avoid self-blame or other similar negative thoughts about yourself. If you were a square trying to fit into a circle’s role, find a square opening next time. If you didn’t have enough corners yet, then you simply need to develop more in certain areas (which is completely doable).
Clearly, your perspective affects your perception of rejection. Carol Dweck, a Stanford Professor, published a book about the subject of different mindsets and their impact on growth called “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success.”
In Dweck’s own words, “In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Obviously, you want to go with the growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. Consider how a growth mindset perceives skills, challenges, effort, feedback, and failures:
And in reality, nothing is “fixed;” change is the only constant. Otherwise, business and executive coaching wouldn’t work and more experience in a job role wouldn’t help you grow.
Now, when it comes to rejection, a fixed mindset escapes the reality of the situation and gets fixated on the thought that “you’re not good enough right now.” Regardless if that’s true, a growth mindset focuses instead of the keywords “right now.” You’re not good enough right now. It’s time to earn more corners.
Taking rejection in stride doesn’t just mean shrugging off the feeling of dejection that comes with it. That actually comes naturally, even to someone with a fixed mindset. What you want to do is understand that rejection is not just a natural part of life and your career, but an important trigger to learning how to overcome obstacles.
What you want to achieve is a growth mindset that understands rejection for what it is: a chance to further shape your career, just in a different direction.
Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program. Salma is the first Arab female faculty member of CTI in the region, a certified Agile profile coach and trainer as well as a Cultural Intelligence Certified Advanced Facilitator. She works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging from directors and managers at Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs across various industries, and other professionals.