Handling Rejection with Grace

illustration of a rejection email

While we know that rejection can sting, particularly if you are convinced it was your dream job or you were perfectly qualified or you are desperate to make a move, that big, disappointing no can actually be as important as the next yes. 

Take it from the inspiring Sara Blakely, Spanx founder and billionaire who is a powerhouse poster child for rejection. Raised by her father to fail at something weekly, she was taught that this was the true sign of hard work. Blakely pushed herself, and says she was rejected by hundreds of manufacturers before one finally said yes. 

If you’d like to embrace Sara’s mindset and help give yourself grace to learn, grow and keep going in the face of adversity, here are some tips to get you started.

Be clear about what you can’t control

That no might have nothing to do with you, your experience, the question you flubbed, or how many dead ends you’ve already hit. It might be that the organization lost funding, or an internal hire who would not require training stepped forward, the person hiring got ill, or some other reason completely beyond amazing you. This is an ideal moment to deep breathe and practice a meditation on releasing our grasp on what is out of our hands. 

Recenter yourself

Birchbox founder Katia Beauchamp bounced back from each investor’s no thank you with a reminder that her business was just not for everyone. "I'd just think to myself: 'Oh you poor dear. You really don't get it. You just don't understand. I feel sorry for you,'" Beauchamp reports

Take a note from these long-revered authors who thankfully clung to what they knew about their own works, despite what others said: Moby-Dick’s author Herman Melville was turned down by multiple publishers, one of whom suggested he replace the whale in the classic novel with young, voluptuous maidens. Louisa May Alcott, who penned Little Women, was advised by a publisher to stick to teaching. Lisa Genova was turned down by a hundred publishers for Still Alice and Alex Haley wrote daily for eight years before Roots got the green light.

Ask yourself what you know for sure about your experience, your talent, what you bring to every table. Make a list that is honest over humble. From that, create a one-line mantra focused in the positive, like, “I bring my magnificent math brain to those who need it most,” or “I am ready for a job where my outstanding organizational skills will be greatly valued.” 

Say thank you 

With work, a no doesn’t always signal the end of a relationship. Consider sending a thank you note to your interviewers for the authentic gratitude you have. Perhaps you appreciated the collaborative interview style, or the opportunity to pitch an idea you have for the company. Maybe the only great thing you can say is that you are grateful for the time getting to know the team. 

If you’re ready for some real self-care upgrade, then write out a thank you note to yourself as well. Express your appreciation to you from you, for being brave, giving it your all, or whatever you can also say authentically about what you did well. 

Find the lesson

Rejection can reveal something to us that isn’t always sweet or lovely to see. After applying for hundreds of jobs one year and landing only a few interviews and zero offers, it was clearly time for me to get very honest about my search process. What the rejection magnifying class showed me was that I was applying as quickly as possible to any job with keywords that matched my resume. I was wasting my own time and not showing off my real talent or passions in the process. I asked myself what might happen if I really invested in ten job applications, or if I rewrote the template cover letter intro paragraph to speak directly about the specific company and position. What if I gave more attention and energy to fewer opportunities? Then I applied the lessons I Iearned. 

Today, I only send off applications I am proud of for positions I am truly interested in. What might your rejection magnifying glass reveal? Are there typos on your portfolio website? Do your references need a refresh? Is it time for a career pivot? Just as important as what you see is how you put what you learn from the reflection into action. 

Track data

If negative thoughts are creating a false story about you or your process, some analytics might help uncover the real story. How many jobs have you applied to and what percentage of those have led to an interview or offer? How many pitches have you presented or calls have you made? When in the day do you have the most energy and positivity for reaching out to others? What times of year are you most productive or successful (whatever those mean to you)? 

Tracking the numbers and information that matters might also show where you can refocus your efforts and remind you of how and where you are giving your all. 

Refine your message

Sara Blakely says it was constant cold calling that helped her hone her sales message. “I learned that you have about fifteen seconds to capture someone’s attention—but if you can make them smile or laugh, you get an extra fifteen to thirty,” she wrote. 

Take another look at your pitch, how you introduce yourself, and the opening line of your cover letter. How can you edit down the number of words and also boost the emotion so that you immediately stand out amongst thousands of applicants? Then practice typing and saying that refined message until it is really your own and ready to use when opportunity opens the door. 

Ask for guidance

Investing in professional support and insight is a productive way to sharpen or learn skills, to create strategy, and to reframe your experiences. The dollars you spend on a business coach might be easily earned back if you learn how to masterfully negotiate that next salary or close the sale on three new clients. The time you invest in a class or webinar could save you months or years of searching by showing you exactly how to tweak your resume or respond to tough interview questions. With all that has been revealed to you by investigating the lessons of rejection, in assessing your superpowers and in taking a hard look at the data, you will probably see how a coach or class can help you take the next steps with confidence. 

Jessica Ashley is a writer, content strategist, and coach whose life’s work (paid, unpaid, and in endless school board meetings) is focused on empowering women through tough transitions with creativity, grace and maybe some cussing.

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