Making Rejection Work For You, Not Against You

Special entry from guest blogger Natalie Bounassar of Entry Level Escapades! 

When I was a freshman in college, I failed a pass/fail final examination. Except it wasn’t just any regular exam – it was a performance exam. I was a Musical Theater major fresh out of high school. The smell of the academic achievement awards I received upon graduation still hung thick in the air. I had been accepted to the conservatory of dreams, and I was bound for Broadway. Nothing was going to bring me and my perfectionist self down.

And then I failed my board.

“Boards” are final performances given at the culmination of each semester where students are reviewed on performance and overall growth. I was certain I had done well, mainly because up to that point, I had a track record of “doing well.” So when I failed, the blow was like unlike anything I’d ever experienced – it rattled me to the core.

I write a lot about this experience because I consider it to be one of several defining moments in my life so far. Failing my board changed and strengthened me in ways I’m still discovering. It shook me hard and woke me up to weaknesses I didn’t even know I possessed. What was once disdain and shame I felt for failing the exam has turned into gratitude and happiness for the growth I experienced as a result. Rejection and “failure” of any sort is a fork in the road; you are presented with two options: you can either shrink backwards or grow forwards. 

Many people understand that, theoretically, failure is an opportunity for growth, but few truly grasp how to take full advantage of this opportunity. I am better because I failed. Owning my “failure” was one of the most empowering things that has ever happened to me, and it can be the same for others, too. Here are a few tips for taking the road forward after a less than ideal turnout:

1.     Listen

When we’re told that what we’ve presented or offered isn’t “good enough,” it’s easy to stack up our defenses and equip ourselves with all of the reasons we are, in fact, good enough. While I don’t discredit maintaining and arsenal of self-confidence, it doesn’t mean we can’t be open to improving. After spending my entire winter break trying to figure out what had gone wrong during my board, I decided to go right to the source. When I got back from break, I went directly to the head of the department, requested a meeting, and asked to hear feedback. Quiet your peanut gallery, calm your defenses, and tune in. What is the other person saying to you? Do your best to hear it first without judgments. Take a step back and listen. What is it about your work that they didn’t like? What were the weaknesses they found in your product? Once you’ve heard them out –

2.     Analyze

While understanding that the feedback you’ve received is, in fact, an opinion, what parts of the opinion resonated with you? Hint: it might be the points where your defenses flared up most violently. I’ve found that it’s not the negative feedback about the traits in which I am most confident that bother me – it’s negative feedback about my insecurities that truly upset me. It’s hearing the truth about something you are trying to hide or cover up that might throw you off balance the most. Do not walk backwards – walk forward into the feedback, even if it stings. Weed through the rejection. What does the person offering feedback do especially well? What are his or her strengths? Focus on feedback given in those areas. Draw upon the expertise of others. I designed a logo for my company, only to have a highly skilled designer tell me it looked juvenile. Initially, I was frustrated and upset. I had spent so much time and energy in coming up with that design. But when I was honest with myself, I realized I wasn’t upset with him – I was upset that I was going to need to backtrack and reassess in order to create the best possible product. I needed to hear his feedback, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Draw upon the expertise of others and when you find it suitable –

3.     Adjust

Based on your analysis, what adjustments can you make to your performance? To your company? To your product? What are the best ways to go about implementing these changes? Set goals. Perhaps you lack organizational skills. Start with small changes – maybe keeping a to do list or committing to a filing system. Where do you hope to be in a month? In two? In a year? Maybe your company’s website is less user friendly than you’d like. Set up meetings with new web designers. Seek recommendations and set up consultations. Be fully committed to taking the road forward. Own the changes and hold yourself accountable to seeing them through. Be grateful that you were given the opportunity to explore these potential pitfalls and strengthen yourself or your product. Be grateful that someone took the time to shake you.

4.     Reassess 

Schedule weekly or monthly check ins in order to hold yourself accountable to the changes and measure the progress of the goals you’ve set. Are you keeping up with them? Assess the affect of the changes on the overall state of your performance or product. Have the changes hurt more than they’ve helped? Or have the changes been for the better? Have sales increased? Has work been easier? Perhaps you’ve noticed changes within yourself. Keep track of the affects of these changes in order to determine where you or the company needs to go next. 

– More from Natalie on her blog,