All the Opportunities of "No" (Updated)

Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog about all of the possibilities rejection opens up. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had more rejection than I’ve ever faced in my entire life coming down the pike. I was one year into launching an entrepreneurial venture, and pretty overwhelmed.

It took me a long time to regroup from each rejection. Rejection felt way too personal, especially in a business context where the name of your company is, uh, your actual name.

I don’t want to elide over some of the struggles and hard work I had to do growing up, but I was mostly “on track” to accomplish what I wanted in life. Then this happened.

So when I wrote that post in 2017, I was in the midst of the hardest period of my entire life. Lately, I’ve noticed that I spend less and less time regrouping after every time I hear “no” or “not interested” in response. Likewise I’ve gotten better at dealing it out.

So what’s changed? And what can I see now that I didn’t before?

Sometimes You Just Have to Wait

Patience has always been a strength of mine. But when it came to starting something from scratch, I couldn’t access it. Everything felt like life or death in the beginning, and therefore any kind of rejection was its own sort of catastrophe.

With two more years of hindsight, I can say honestly that patience is probably the most underrated part of going after something ambitious. It isn’t celebrated with meme-able quotes and it’s not exciting, but it works.

Within the past year, I’ve gotten the chance to work with several individuals or teams whose initial answer to working together was “no”. Quite often, they were interested, the fit was right but the timing wasn’t. When the timing was right, they circled back, and I was ready to meet them.

The common characteristic between each was that I responded positively to the rejection. It was not easy. When you’re in the throws of getting rejected, your emotional brain wants to lash out. Instead I course correct to reinforcing why I wanted to work with the person or team in the first place, and remain optimistic that we can do so in the future.

No You Don’t See Me

At some point in the future, when I’m feeling even more secure than I am at the moment, I’m going to write about every single job I can remember applying for and not getting. Even as I launched this venture, and particularly towards the beginning, when times were tough and felt hopeless, I occasionally cast out to try and rejoin the normal working ranks.

It’s incredibly frustrating to know what you are capable of and have a potential employer not see it. But it is a monumental blessing that they do not hire you anyway. Looking back particularly at the jobs I’ve missed out on the past few years, I can only manage to think “whew, dodged that bullet” in retrospect.

If you are ambitious in what you value, it is going to be very hard for you to work in an institutional context. Staying true to your belief about what is right and wrong in the profession makes for a more narrow path. Not rocking the boat, showing the appropriate amount of deference and political skill, avoiding controversial topics are great ways to get ahead in many areas.

You have to create your own institution if you want to really change something. More than one potential employer cited my blog as a potential risk for hiring me. That told me everything I needed to know about whether I should work there!

It’s Ok To Mourn

A few weeks ago, my wife came home from work. She’s more natural about just downloading her day, and I probably slightly contorted my face to reveal a bit of anguish.

When she asked what was wrong, I answered plainly. “I’m mourning”. And you know what, mourning is perfectly ok, good even. I had the message drilled into my head so many times that it’s all about “getting back on the horse”. Getting back on the horse is important, but also it’s ok to say “wow that really fucking hurt, getting thrown off that horse. WOWOWOWOW. OWWWWWW.”

When I was at my lowest point, probably in early 2017 (just after my mom passed away), I got probably the best possible insight from my therapist at the time. I confessed to her that on most days, I didn’t feel like doing anything. Just the thought of putting myself out there in any context felt pretty overwhelming.

She told me to just sit with it. She told me I was lucky that I didn’t have “job” or a boss who might not really care about what I was going through. “You’re mourning,” she said. “It takes time.”.

It took me until right about now to realize that sitting with the pain of your rejection, not ignoring it, is probably the most important part of getting “back on the horse”. I’m just glad it didn’t take any longer.