‘No’ Means Growth: Rejection in Your Professional Life

Two business associates walk down corridor having discussionRejection isn’t fun to deal with, but it’s a universal experience in life. We experience it on a personal level with friends, lovers, and other people. And we experience it constantly in our professional lives.

Nobody needs me to explain how rejection feels. It feels awful. Many dreams go unrealized because the dreamer would rather hang on to that perfect dream than face the possibility of rejection.

But since rejection is such a big part of growing within your career, hunting for work, and just living, I’d like to make the case for the idea that we may be looking at getting a “no” in the wrong way. If you get to the point where you hear no, you aren’t getting that job, or no, your boss isn’t going with your idea, it is not necessarily a sign that you aren’t progressing. Getting to “no” is progress; it’s just not taking you on the trajectory you were hoping for.

When someone tells you no, here is what it also means:

  • You tried! You put your ideas together and took a chance. Instead of assuming the answer would be no and counting yourself out, you recognized the potential and took initiative. Be proud of yourself.
  • Now you have closure and can move on to other pursuits. (This applies in many life domains.)
  • Instead of committing to the idea in its current form, you are free to tinker with and possibly improve it. In the case of being rejected as a candidate for a job, you have time to reflect on your job search. Are the jobs you are considering really where your passion guides you? Is there anything worth reconsidering regarding your interview style, your résumé, or the companies you target?

Positive reflection can be a true gift of rejection. It can help you clarify your priorities and get to a place where you can articulate what you really want and who you really are.

Don’t fall into the trap of conducting a postmortem on your recent job application or round of interviews. It’s impossible to go back through the mental “tape” and critique every little thing you did. Most of the time, at least with interviews, the chemistry is off and nobody knows quite why. That’s assuming the job was actually open to begin with. In many cases, employers interview candidates for show; they already have someone internal they want to slide into that position, but can’t do it without interviewing a certain number of external candidates.

Positive reflection can be a true gift of rejection. It can help you clarify your priorities and get to a place where you can articulate what you really want and who you really are.

Some hiring managers might provide feedback if you ask for it. While I think it’s generous of them to do so, it’s not necessarily helpful if you aren’t on the same wavelength. What one person thinks of as demonstrating strong skills in an area may not be the same as what you would think of as demonstrating strong skills in that area. So you might come away from that interaction knowing that there is no way the two of you could have worked together, but it’s not usually the kind of information that will help you in future interviews.

Remember that you have many opportunities ahead of you, and that you aren’t yet even aware of everything coming your way. Know that you can make the most of everything that comes to you, and try to approach it all as adventure and excitement. You will have some ups and downs along the way, but those are just part of the ride.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Angelo

    September 24th, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    Although a rejection can be pretty disappointing it doesn’t have to mean that it is the end of the world. It may feel like it for a little while but I say to take what you learned from the one rejection and turn that into something that you can make a positive in the next. Learn from it and grow.

  • cal

    September 25th, 2015 at 7:26 AM

    But you remember how it was when you were young and just looking for some affirmation? You know that those rejections always just felt like then end.

  • Miles

    September 26th, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    I agree with cal. Sadly there are going to be those people who cannot recover from rejection, who see that as some form of saying that they are not good enough, they internalize all of that and don’t see it as a way to improve their WORK but see it as a rebuke of who they are as a person. Tread lightly with your words in these instances,

  • cara

    September 27th, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    I always try to stress to my kids that the only time that you actually fail is when you are unwilling to give something new a try. Yes, you may not have the skills to do it perfectly at first, but big deal. To do anything well generally you have to try and try again until you get it right. I think that the same thing can definitely be said for any professional career and you have to be able to see those NO answers as a way of discovering a better way to do something once you become brave enough to try again.

  • Amy Armstrong

    September 27th, 2015 at 10:11 PM

    Is there anyone out there who isn’t looking for affirmation? ;-) I try to remind my clients, especially those in transition, that learning how to affirm your own talents and strengths is an important coping skill. Also, it’s important to surround yourself with people on your inner circle who are generous with kudos. Unfortunately, bosses, co-workers, and dates are not required to give pats on the back, so it’s important to find ways to, as @cara put it, “try and try again.”

  • Louise

    September 28th, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Well there are ways that someone can say something to you and it just feels like it has come out in a way that is not the most helpful

  • Dean

    September 29th, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    Nope, Amy, I think that you are right- that the one thing across the board that we could all say that we want someone to affirm that we are doing a good job.

  • Tandy

    September 30th, 2015 at 4:22 PM

    I do not take rejection very well. I am a fighter and I am a person who wants to get what she wants. No to me is just mean, it makes me want to work even harder. I don’t guess that there is anything wrong with that is there?

  • Amy Armstrong

    September 30th, 2015 at 8:21 PM

    I don’t take no for an answer myself, so I can’t judge anyone else for feeling the same way. It’s information. It’s feedback, and it’s from a biased source. Consider all of that along with your own goals and proceed accordingly. Good for you for not giving up! Just keep it all in perspective. Some things are worth fighting for; others aren’t. Wisdom comes when we know the difference.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.