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In my post last week, I discussed my latest thoughts on interviewing and job-seeking. As an update to that, my boss notified me that I wasn’t selected for the job (she told me early and said she owed me that courtesy instead of waiting for HR to contact me). When she called me into her office to let me know, she provided some preliminary feedback on the process with a promise to sit down with me for a more substantial review of my interview in the future.
When she was going over some observations about my interview, she started off by commenting that I had a great presentation. She didn’t get much out after that about my presentation because bone-headed me cut her off so that I could comment on how bad I thought my interview was.
In reflecting back, I realize how dumb that was of me. My boss was giving me unprompted feedback, and instead of listening, I decided to proactively cut myself down.
When I think about this moment, this is an example of my fear of rejection.
Prior to meeting my wife, my fear of rejection stopped me from putting myself out there for dating. When I was rejected, I took it personally. Not in a “lash out at the person for turning me down” sense, but in the “I guess there is nothing inherently desirable about me” sense.
It happened when I was rejected from jobs. It’s hard not to take it personally when you start hearing that “we found a more qualified candidate,” and you start thinking that maybe the philosophy degree has taken you as far as it’ll go.
As a defense, instead of waiting for the other person to reject me, I proactively start rattling off reasons why I’m to be rejected, effectively cutting myself off at the knees. Maybe I’m thinking that the display of self-awareness will somehow benefit me, but in actuality I’m just trying to soften the blow. The faster I reject myself, the less harsh the ensuing rejection will be.
This is, of course, not a healthy way to view rejection. Most rejections aren’t personal – it’s not about me. I didn’t get a date with that person because they didn’t feel a click, or something about their interactions with me didn’t make them desire taking things in a romantic direction. Or they broke up with me because they didn’t want to string me along. Or we broke up because they were more interested in something else.
Or I didn’t get the job because there genuinely was a more qualified candidate. Or maybe the boss thought it would cost more money to get me up and running, and they needed someone with a different skillset than what I could offer.
These things don’t mean that I’m lesser because of it. It means I’m different in both degree and kind.
My fear of rejection holds me back because it closes me off to opportunities for growth. It stops me from starting new and uncertain things. It also stops me from listening. When I’m afraid, blinders go on and my mouth begins to run. I get narrow-visioned and I stop listening to what others have to say. This isn’t a good strategy for success. It’s really hard to pay attention to what’s important when you drown out the conversation trying to save face and protect yourself.
I know I’m not alone in fearing rejection. Everyone feels this. Everyone is a tight little ball of insecurities trying to keep the loose ends from unravelling under the most cursory of examinations. We want to be liked. We want to know that we are enough. We want to know we have value as we are, not who we think we should pretend to be.
It’s a struggle to stay silent when you’re feeling judged, but sometimes keeping your mouth closed is the most important thing to help you do better next time.