Redefining Rejection

Redefining Rejection

To put it simply, rejection sucks. Whether it's in personal relationships, professional endeavors, or creative pursuits, being rejected can trigger feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, and even questioning one's self-worth. We’ve all been there, and I can safely assume that we all don’t welcome rejection with open arms.

… But what if we did?

I think it’s innately human to avoid bad feelings, but how often do bad situations often lead to better things? Maybe not 100% of the time, but definitely more often than not. When I reflect on the times I was rejected professionally (from a job, or promotion, etc.), I have this “out of the box” experience where I’m thankful for that rejection. Being further away from the rejection, I see so clearly the lessons learned, personal growth, and new perspectives I attained from trudging through the journey of accepting the rejection.

Let me tell you a story

For a brief moment in history, I was a high school English teacher. At the school district that I was in, it was part of their hiring process to make applicants become long-term substitutes for a school year before being signed on as an “official” teacher. Annoying, but understandable (I  guess). So that’s what I did. I was a long-term sub for the entire school year, and at the end of the year was officially hired (yay).

However, simultaneously, another job opened up at my school, and that was for an Assistant Principal role. And for those of you watching at home, I have my Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Educational Leadership… Which is a fancy way of saying that I wanted to be a school administrator one day. So I thought… Should I go for it?

Instantly my brain turned against me. You’ll never get that job. You aren’t qualified for that. Everyone will laugh at you for even applying for that job. Your principal will think you’ve lost your actual mind. If you get an interview you’ll look/ sound so stupid. You name the negative thought- I had it.

But then, a different thought came into mind. What do I really have to lose?

It was then that I decided to have radical courage, and just apply, because for real… What did I actually have to lose? So I went for it… Annnnnd didn’t make it past the first phone screening (lol). But you know what? During that phone screening I was able to have a conversation with my Principal that I wouldn’t have been able to have otherwise. I was able to not only share my career goals, but also my passion for education, staff development, and partnering with families. In that conversation, my Principal was able to see a side of me that she hadn’t seen before, and decided to invest back in me by giving me opportunities for growth the following year. She made me a class sponsor, advised me to join the instructional consultation team, had me run a virtual professional development session, and more. I learned so much and was so grateful for those experiences.

At the end of that school year, to my surprise, another Assistant Principal job opened up, and I thought, I’m going for it again. This time, I made it past the phone screening, past the second round of interviews with the other administrators and a few colleagues, and made it to the final round of interviews with the Superintendents and the board. In making it that far, I was one of three candidates (out of over 60 that applied), and was the only internal candidate to get to that point. 

Sadly, I didn’t get the job, but in reality I got so much more. Those situations gave me new skills, a closer relationship with my supervisor, opportunities to teach others, an actual understanding of the hiring process for a school administrator (you best believe I took HELLA notes along the way), and above all else, a better sense of myself and a new perspective on rejection.

This whole scenario really made me think… What is rejection doing to our career trajectories? Especially for women. Here is the sad, but glaring truth: 

  • Women in the US make up almost half of the entry-level workforce, but fill only about 21% of C-suite roles
  • Data suggests women tend to undersell their work, rating their performance as 33% lower than their equally performing male colleagues
  • Women spend years building up experience, accomplishments and recognition before they consider themselves – and are considered to be – credible candidates

(I got this information from this article if you’re interested in learning more)

So, what do we do to battle this?

I came up with a few strategies to help you just do the damn thing and open yourself up to the possibility of rejection when attempting to advance in your career (however that may look):

  • Catch when you start to limit yourself and minimize your experience
    • Don’t downplay your job, it’s hard and not everyone can do it. People tend to not take camp jobs seriously because they don’t truly understand the administrative work that goes behind everything. Be the one to tell them.
    • Look at your resume and audit for verbs that don’t pack a punch. For example, using started, created, planned vs. founded, engineered, piloted. All six of these action verbs essentially say the same thing, but the last three have a stronger impact.
  • Focus on your abundance instead of what you lack
    • If you’re going for a new job or promotion, it’s easy to think of the things you’re missing instead of all the skills you have. Annnnd chances are, you aren’t actually missing the experience/ skills you think you are.
      • To prepare for the job application/ interview or for a self-practice technique, take the job responsibilities and list your experience underneath them. Here’s an example of how I did that when relating my camp experience to the Assistant Principal role.
    • Remember that YOU control your story, and the only way to break through anyone’s assumptions of you is to tell them who you are in your own words. Choose those words wisely.
  • Go HARD
    • Don’t leave anything on the table. If you’re going for a job you feel underprepared or ready for, wildly over-prepare yourself to enter the arena. When I went for the Assistant Principal job, I needed to show them who I was, because I knew the structure of the interview wouldn’t give me enough time to really tell them everything I wanted them to know.
      • In an effort to do that, I made a binder with materials that showed my experience (past schedules I made, evaluations I had done, budgets I created, etc.) including a year-long timeline of what I would do if I got the job. You can view that here. Did it feel like overkill? Yes. Did it show that I was ready af and serious af about getting that job? Yes. Remember, you tell people who you are by how you show up.
    • Set your future self up for success. You never know how the interview will turn out while you’re in it, so make sure you’re taking care of your future self while everything is fresh. For me, that looked like noting every detail of each interview along the way. Here’s the document I made for myself. I figured, I might one day find myself in the position to interview for something like this again, so I can prepare myself right now for when that time comes.
  • Reframe rejection
    • Rejection is hard. Take time to sit with your emotions and process them.
    • Look for what you’re gaining from that rejection. This might not happen right away and often takes time.
    • Trust that the right things are coming for you.

As I reflect on my journey and the pivotal moments of rejection that shaped it, I've come to realize that rejection, despite its initial sting, holds the transformative power to lead us toward unforeseen opportunities. The call to action is clear: go all-in, be unapologetically authentic, and trust that rejection is merely a stepping stone on our unique career journeys. After all, rejection isn't ever actually the end of the road, and typically becomes the catalyst for your most triumphant victories.

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Maggie MitchellMaggie Mitchell

Events & Resource Lead

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