This morning, I woke up to a notification from my phone. The email was from a recruiter from a company I was interviewing with, and the subject line read “Thanks from <company>”.
Anyone who has ever been through the corporate rejection process knows that any email that starts off that way is a rejection. You don’t even have to open the message to know that it reads, “Dear Rohan, thank you so much for applying to <company> this year. We enjoyed meeting you and having you at our office. We had a tremendous number of candidates this year, and while we would love to take them all, unfortunately the hiring committee has decided not to move forward with your application this year. Keep us in mind when you’re applying again next year!”
I’ve received this email more times than I can count in the last few years. Each time, you hope it stings a little bit less. And yet it never does—especially when, as was the case today, this was the second rejection I received in a little under 24 hours. It’s not a fun process.
And so as I sat in bed, the email still lit on my phone next to me, I wanted nothing more than to turn over, close my eyes, and lay in bed all day. I deserve this, I thought. The dual rejection from two companies, both at the top of my list, was enough to justify skipping class, eating delivery pizza, and watching Bob’s Burgers all day.
I’d like to say that this was a watershed moment for me, when I bravely tossed aside the covers, shook off my pessimism, and boldly went to class in defiance of the stench of overwhelming failure that surrounded me. I did not polish my armor and confront my demons. I didn’t even really want to shower. (The only reason I did was because the stench of overwhelming failure was mingled with other stenches.)
Instead, I took a shower and went to class because I hadn’t been to class in a week for interviews, and because I had homework due, and frankly I didn’t really want to subject myself to academic failure on top of my professional failures.
Maybe in a week or two, when I’ve had some time to reflect on all of this, I’ll have better advice on how to deal with failure, and how to stand up to rejection. Here’s what I know now.
(This is going to sound really morbid.)
They say when you die of frostbite, the last thing you feel isn’t cold—it’s a glimmer of warmth. That warmth leads you to believe that you’ll be fine, that by some miracle, despite the fact that you have no reprieve from the cold, by some magical or otherwise supernatural force, you will be saved. And so you stop fighting back. Why should you? You’re feeling better already.
Then you die. And it’s not the cold that kills you.
It’s the complacency that comes with comfort.
Of course in my case, death isn’t what would follow if I were to lay in bed all day to cope. (I hope.) It’s, in context, arguably worse. All of the interviews that I got this semester were the result of three months of nonstop networking, cold-calling recruiters, meeting engineers at career fairs, and going to open houses in the Bay Area. I worked extremely hard to get the interviews that I did, and that isn’t nothing.
What I would lose, were I to sit in bed all day, would be the momentum I’ve gained over the course of those three months. I’d just...stop. And so to get back to where I am now, I’d have to restart the entire process.
So that’s one reason not to sit in bed. The other reason—one that has been so frequently repeated that it’s starting to sound more like a meaningless platitude than actual advice—is that we are not defined by our failures. We are defined by how, once we fall, we get back up.
And it’s hard to get back up. It seems that every other day someone in my year signs some fabulously lucrative offer at a company I’ve been rejected at. It’s easy to look at everyone else and conclude that you are the only failure, and that to try would only set you up for further failures.
Of course this isn’t true. And there are a lot of reasons why that isn’t true, like the fact that in order to fail in a meaningful way you have to have done something to deserve the opportunity to even try. Failure doesn’t define us—how we get back up does.
Like I said, I don’t know how to deal with failure. I know that I should, and so I do. Maybe that’s all that matters.
Maybe there’s more to it. If there is, I just can’t see the rest of it now.
All I do know is this: doing nothing is worse than doing something and failing at it. Get back up.