What Powerful, Terrible Leaders Have in Common

It’s being really bad at handling rejection

Drew Magary
Forge
Published in
6 min readJul 3, 2020

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Photo: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images

Like a lot of men, I have a long track record of sucking at rejection. Whenever someone said no to me, it was always THEIR fault that they didn’t see the best in me. I was great. They were foolish.

Back in the late ’90s, I spent a summer as a table runner at a restaurant in Western Connecticut to make beer money for college. I was, charitably speaking, an underwhelming employee. I took a lot of bathroom breaks to avoid the dish pile. I was too loud in the kitchen. I wore the same black pants and white shirt every day to fit the dress code for staff, and both garments grew filthier and more ragged as the summer crept along. I say all this with the benefit of hindsight. Live on for another couple of decades and you become much more objective in evaluating your younger self. But at the time, of course, I thought I was the BEST table runner who ever lived. I thought I deserved to be promoted to waiter. To OWNER, even.

I was not. The following spring, I called the actual owner to see if my old summer job would be waiting for me once finals were over. She said to me, in a disturbingly cheery voice, “No!”

“Really?” I asked. I was floored.

“Really!” Again, she sounded pleased to deliver this news to me, but didn’t bother to say why.

“Oh, okay. Well then, see ya.”

And I hung up. I got a table running job at a different restaurant that summer, but I still stewed over the rejection from my old boss. I told my mom I got turned down for a return gig and SHE stewed about it, to the point where she didn’t patronize that restaurant again until roughly two years ago. Even now, whenever I think about that lady (like right now!), I’m like man, she really sucked.

But she didn’t suck, of course. She was running a business, needed capable staff, and already had ample evidence that I was not capable at my job. I was the one who sucked.

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Drew Magary
Forge
Writer for

Columnist at GEN. Co-founder, Defector. Author of Point B.