Rejected but Winning?

Late last year I was presented with an opportunity that I was beyond just excited about. There was a long screening process that just ended  this spring. I managed to succeed at every round and I was so sure that this project was mine that I even shared my excitement with my mentor as well as my best friend. Rejection was the last thing on my mind so when I received the news that I wasn’t selected, I was devastated.

With my confidence shattered, I tried to distract myself with my next side hustle project only to find myself constantly wondering why I should still bother. I found myself unmotivated to work on anything outside of my day-job and let everything else kind of fall to the wayside. It became increasingly obvious that a change was necessary and that’s when I started to re-read a text I’ve been meaning to bring up on the blog for a while – “Win or Learn” by Harlan Cohen. To be honest when I first got it I didn’t expect to actually need it so soon, nevertheless, it has been a game changer.

Here are 4 major takeaways I got from this book that may help inspire if you too are dealing with rejection (of any kind) at the moment.

Disclaimer: Book was gifted for review, but opinions are my own.

1.) You have two options – to win or to learn

This one is obvious given the book title though admittedly  I’ve always viewed the options as “you win or you fail.” Not lose, FAIL. What Cohen suggests that it isn’t so much that failing is “not an option” so much as that you need to shift your mindset and creating new habits. Hence the learning part to this. The universal truth is that not everyone and everything will always respond to you “according to plan” and accepting this fact is the first step in this learning process. You stop fighting and start listening.  Shift your expectations so that if, or when, you get that rejection you take steps to find out why and move forward.

2.) Process Information without letting emotions get (too much) in the way

As someone who has faced more rejections that I care to admit (personally, romantically and professionally),  you would think that I would be used to all the emotions that comes with it but I’m not. Cohen says to not bring emotions into the rejection and get started on your next plan of action, however, I disagree.  Emotions inevitably will come up with any kind of rejection you face, (I mean, your brain processes rejection the same way it processes physical pain!), though we should be sure to not let them affect us too much.

For one, toxic positivity is insincere and doesn’t make anything easier, if anything it can make things even more painful or difficult. So cry, get angry, and vent if you need to; you need to let that all out if you hope to have a clearer mindset to figure out your next move.  Doing so will help you to respond instead of react, by which I mean work on your next steps, whether it be following up on that rejection email with a request for feedback on your portfolio/interview, or

This isn’t easy, I mean I’ve only just started doing this myself and given my history with anxiety and depression, my typical reaction tends to be shutting down. However, shifting to responding instead of reacting has helped take away the hopeless outlook I’ve had since college in regards to my career and personal growth. Definitely worth trying for that alone.

Installation from this year’s Leaf Flower Show in NYC that just reminded me of this book’s message.

3.) Success = Committing to a process

I grew up in total financial duress so rejection when it comes to work specifically will send me into a panic. My thoughts being that if I don’t succeed my family and I will be back where we started. Because of this I can’t help but measure success quantitively and I’m constantly stressing that the numbers aren’t to where I want them to be by now.

Moving away from this kind of thinking is uncomfortable as it is all that I know, still it helps to do so as it allows me to define what I want, which in turn will get me to know what I need in order to take action and get it. Once you define what you want, you’ll need to take action to get it, be it something like getting outside help to update your resume, going back to school to finish a degree, changing careers or even moving out of state for more opportunities. Whatever it may be, figure it out and then stick to working on it.

4.) Nothing is out of your league

I tend to place the blame for outcomes that rejection on me wanting more, beyond what I’ve known for most of my young life – namely homelessness, and  financial insecurity.  This is a kind of thinking that I truly believed I had managed to shake as I got older, though sadly this isn’t the case. I am fortunate enough to be employed, though this doesn’t take away from the fact that I wish to continue growing in spite of the obstacles in my way.

Being a first generation American child of working class Latino immigrants meant having to start at “negative-one,” by which I mean, with no resources or professional contacts to speak of, where most people start at zero (or one if they are lucky), having at least a foundation in which to build on.  As a result I started to truly believe that I’m not worthy of certain opportunities and that (professionally) I will only be capable of reaching basic survival levels.

Cohen defines this as “self-rejection, ” where you dwell on flaws and failures, making you believe that you are not worthy of achieving specific goals, so you decide to quit or avoid trying at all so not to be rejected.  The first step is let go of negative self-talk and acknowledge that, while it may feel personal, rejection is not a reflection of your value or worth. So continue to dream big. Always. You may not reach the exact goal you’ve set, yet as the saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

The door I had hoped was mine to open… didn’t, but that just means I have to look elsewhere for the one that will. Hell, I’ll build my own if I need to. After all, this is a time to learn and try something new, right? Might as well go for it.

Image: SOURCEBOOKS, INC.

“Win or Learn” is part of the Ignite Reads series of business and personal growth books  that can be read in an hour or less,  perfect for anyone that doesn’t have much time to read. Get your copy at Target and check out the rest of the books in the series here.


How do you view rejection? What motivates you to keep going in spite of a negative situation?

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