How Sharing Your Professional Rejections Can Spark Joy
When I didn’t get a job I thought I was a shoo-in for, I didn’t call a friend to vent my frustration. I didn’t ask for a pep talk. In fact, I told exactly no one what had happened, instead falling into a private tailspin of doubt: I really thought I’d be chosen? How mortifying. Keeping my rejection a secret seemed like the best way to protect myself from further humiliation.
In hindsight, though, I wasn’t protecting my feelings so much as deepening the emotional wound. I was letting someone else’s decision determine my sense of self-worth. But I don’t entirely blame myself for thinking this way: Amid a sea of chirpy “personal news” tweets and Facebook announcements about “officially accepted” offers, it’s easy to conclude that only our professional successes are worth sharing. After all, potential job recruiters, future co-workers, exes, and the girl who was mean to you in high school are all watching and judging. You don’t want any of those people to see your failures.
Being rejected more also means you’re putting yourself out there and working hard to achieve your professional goals.
But you should. If you really want to succeed in your chosen field, you should try to rack up as many rejections as possible. And the next time you get a horrible, demoralizing, earth-shattering rejection, you should shout it from the rooftops.
I know it’s easier said than done. No matter how sure of yourself you are, rejections can sting. Who would want to wallow in that feeling when you could just pretend it doesn’t exist?
But the more I read about how to deal with rejection, the more sense it made to me that racking up a ton of rejections should actually be the goal. Being rejected means you’re putting yourself out there and working hard to achieve your professional dreams. I started telling people what had happened, and it felt freeing.
It also felt comforting. Support can make a big difference when you’re hurting: A 2014 study published in Psychological Science found that sharing your pain can help strengthen social bonds.
In the case of rejection, that bonding can happen via social media. Award-winning author Saeed Jones jump-started a mini-movement with a tweet describing countless rejections from the same prestigious writing residency. “Maybe facing rejection would be a little easier to take if we talked about it more,” he wrote, adding the hashtag #ShareYourRejections.
It went viral, and his candor provided a platform for others to discuss their rejections and how they had worked through them. The rejections ran the gamut — jobs applied for, books never published, auditions mangled — and the responses to each confession all had the same supportive tenor. In one instance, Tony Award winner Audra McDonald told another actress, “And yep, you’re still here (and AMAZING and GORGEOUS) and I’m still here too!”
Scrolling through the whole thing feels like both a pep talk and a hug. We all know how social media often portrays only the highlights of someone’s life, leading us to compare our worst to others’ best. By choosing to talk about rejection publicly, you’re dismantling that dynamic. You’re creating a space that is less perfect and more real, that acknowledges an inescapable part of life. Everyone has been rejected in one way or another. When you share your rejection, you help take the sting out of someone else’s.
“These kind of connections with others can build a community for support so you’re not alone in the struggle,” says New York-based therapist Grace Suh, who often helps clients struggling with anxiety and depression. “Your vulnerability in sharing the ‘shameful’ experience can give others an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we’re on the same boat and let’s support each other.’”
Of course, vulnerability can be terrifying. After all, being vulnerable only works when we drop the personas we too often project. But it’s worth it. “Once barriers are broken down, it’s easier to support one another at work and in life,” says Bonnie Marcus, a women’s leadership coach and the author of The Politics of Promotion. “We drop the outer facade that we’re perfect. We become more approachable, likable, and authentic. We are then able to step into our full power and confidence, understanding not only our strengths, but our limitations as well.”
When you share your rejections — when you allow yourself to be publicly vulnerable — you’re telling the world that you’re a human being with ups and downs, just like everyone else. You’re creating community. Importantly, you’re giving yourself, and others, permission to stop working toward the unattainable goal of perfection. Telling other people I didn’t get that job was scary, because I was worried I would be judged or thought less of. But in the end, it allowed me to heal my wounds, move on, and try again.