Rejections don’t go on your résumé, but they are part of every successful person’s career. All of us will apply for jobs that we don’t get and have ambitions that aren’t fulfilled, because that is part of being a working person, part of pushing oneself to the next step professionally.
Empowering and full of heart, the stories in this collection are diverse in every sense, by top women from many cultural backgrounds and in a wide variety of fields; many of their hard-earned lessons are universal.
When you get rejected, you feel like you’re the only one to whom this has happened—but that’s not true. Failure happens to everyone. There is actually a name for this phenomenon: pluralistic ignorance. You assume something about everyone else, but that assumption is inaccurate.
Passions are developed, not discovered. It can take a long time—even years—for you to develop a love for a certain career. So don’t quit a job too early just because it doesn’t immediately feel like a “calling.”
I’m a big believer in vulnerability—sharing with people you care about and getting support from one another.
You don’t have to be born with grit and resilience; they are things you can develop in order to deal with rejection, failures, and disappointments.
If you walk into the wall, fall down, and then try to walk through the same part of the wall again, you’re just going to fall again. You’ve got to look around and say, “Is there a door? Is there some other way that I can get through here? What can I learn from hitting the wall?”
My mother died of brain cancer when she was sixty-three, and I remember the first couple of client crises that I handled after that when people around me were going nuts. I would reflect on the death of my mom and think, It’s only money. We’re not doing brain surgery here. I never would have said that out loud, but the reality is that we need to put things into perspective.
I think there’s a balance between recognizing “What part did I play, and do I need to deal with that, as ugly as it might be?” and being like, “Just recognize it and keep going.”
You know what would be bizarre? If you never failed and you never got rejected. And it probably wouldn’t serve you well either, as a good human being.
Laura Weidman Powers
I think the Google job just felt like such a big deal at the time because it was the major thing that was staring me in the face. But it’s important to remember that we don’t live in a world where all opportunities are presented at the exact same time for you to choose from. A rejection happens, and then other opportunities come later.
If things feel off at work, if you sense that bias is affecting your experience, then make sure you plug yourself into communities and opportunities that value you and your worth, even as you may try to change the system.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson
When you are trying to make a change, acknowledge that whatever the pushback, there is often validity in other people’s concerns. Show respect for different opinions. But repeat the facts as you know them.
It helps to listen and find ways to reposition your argument, showing that it also meets the other person’s objectives. That way, they don’t have to be on the defensive.
After a rejection, you have to stop your own destructive narration, the looping story in which you tell yourself what just happened. The way to do that is through creativity itself. That’s what breaks up the noise in your head and gets you back to your heart.
Volunteering is one of the best possible ways to overcome a failure, because all of a sudden you’re not focused on what you don’t have. You’re focused on all that you can give.
Treat your inner artist like a kindergartener in art class. Be gentle rather than critical. Go back to the basics and remember the simple joy of singing around a campfire if you’re a musician, or playing piano for a group of friends.
If somebody can’t publish your book or can’t represent you, know that these decisions are all very subjective. It’s always literally one or two people who made that decision.
Try not to overidentify with your creative work. It can feel like if somebody doesn’t like your work, then they don’t like you. But your work is this mysterious thing that comes out of you. It’s your job to serve it, help it, and then let it go and move on to your next thing.
Finding a creative community will help your work get into the world. A friend passed along the draft of my second book, Valencia, to Seal Press. Another book was published by MacAdam/Cage through a writer there who liked me. I feel like everything I’ve ever gotten has really been through other writers helping me and the literary community.
There is so much power in community, even if that community includes your competitors. I met a couple of other female founders who were starting sex-education-focused businesses, and we became good friends. I ended up spearheading this organization called the Women of Sex Tech, which at first was maybe 5 to 10 female founders, and now it’s 250 femme and nonbinary founders.
It’s powerful to share experiences of rejection. We have to be honest with one another about how hard the process is so that women in business aren’t deterred when it happens to them. I think by sharing your vulnerability and your hardships, you give other people permission to do so as well. Then collectively, we’re able to kind of grow stronger together.
Loretta J. Ross
Do the work you want to do and then find a way to get paid to do it. Sometimes that means finding the organization that most aligns with what you want to do and volunteering there, or working your way up the food chain, or writing or blogging so that you become a self-taught expert.
If you care enough about your work, you will be able to get past rejections. Even after I was fired, my former boss and I knew that we were in the same movement. Our relationship changed, but we were still part of the black feminist community working for reproductive justice.
It’s almost too cliché, but often when one door closes, another one opens. That’s exactly what happened to me.
It’s easy to get used to having someone else just tell you the right way to do things, but there’s a difference between needing a team and wanting the comfort.
A band is like a group project. You’re taking four different people with four different lives and somehow trying to make it work together. It’s important to have conversations like, “How much of our lives do we want to commit to this?”
There’s no one route to becoming a comic. You’ve just kind of got to do your own thing and trust yourself. And get up a bunch. If you want to be good, you just need to get up onstage and perform a whole lot, dealing with rejection over and over.
Remember that you are also allowed to be the rejecter and say no when something is posed as a great opportunity but just doesn’t feel right.
Chelsea Sunday Kline
If you are thinking about running for office, then you need to make a conscious choice to just put away any self-doubt, just squash it down in an imaginary box and put it away. Self-doubt is a waste of time and energy.
A lot of people don’t win their first campaign. That is okay.
Telling women and people from marginalized groups, “You should run for office,” is not actually helpful. I ran by the skin of my teeth, tapping every person I knew for five bucks to keep my headquarters open, but I was also employed and had a life partner and connections. So many pieces were in place. We need more systemic support if we want more women and people from marginalized groups to run for office.
Teachers can say asinine things. We want to think we’ll get support and encouragement from our teachers, but that’s not always the case.
If you not only love to do something, but need to do it, then you don’t need any advice from me; you’re just going to kind of keep doing it, whether or not you’re successful. If you stop doing it because you get discouraged, well, maybe actually there are other things you’ll love more.
I’m trying to get to a place where I’m not on a roller coaster of wins and losses: I’m doing my best; let that be enough.
When something happens at work that feels like a rejection, the first thing I do is to let myself feel it. I pause, honoring my feelings and not resisting. I don’t demean them or tell myself that I’m bad, stupid, or wrong for feeling upset about how I feel.
To make myself feel better, I do something that physically honors my feelings and soothes me in the way you would soothe a kid who fell down—the kid scrapes her knee, you kiss the knee. So I treat myself really well: I’ll get sushi and watch Real Housewives, or I’ll get a massage.
Be open to new opportunities, especially when they are unexpected. I met Nick on the day I had sworn off dating men forever. I ended up at Harvey Mudd, never expecting to accept the offer.
Hard work and persistence are the most important factors for success. If your goal is ambitious, you will encounter many challenges and seeming failures along the way. Do not give up, but be willing to consider different approaches and strategies.
Ask for help and give help. No single person changes the world by themselves. Find others with similar goals and connect your networks.
When you get a rejection for anything, write back and say, “Thank you for sharing this news. I appreciate you reaching out.” You would be surprised how few people acknowledge the person on the other side of the e-mail or phone, and it makes a difference for people to recognize that you’re in a relationship with each other—it’s not a machine saying no.
It can be easy to do the things that we think we’re supposed to do or to want. I think when we do the things that fuel our spirit, when we pursue what we love and are good at, then rejection might come a little less often