Managing Rejection (And Success!)
Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in a number of situations where I’ve been rejected. I read an article via BoingBoing on why some people see failure as crippling, while others see it as a motivator. Pretty interesting stuff. I have the book on hold at the library. I guess I fall into the latter category as I haven’t really let my numerous failures drag me down.
When I was fresh out of college (for the first time), I got an amazing opportunity to interview at Google. If you were a CS major in 2006, Google was pretty much the holy grail. In my mind, it definitely was (well, maybe second to Facebook, but they never got back to me). Like many of my adventures, I wrote about this in a blog post.
Long story short, I was rejected. I think at that point I was a bit cocky and thought Google was a sure thing. You should never have a sense of entitlement; that leads down a pretty depressing path. Getting rejected was a good wake-up call that I needed to improve myself if I wanted to end up with my dream job. At the time I thought I had missed an amazing opportunity. This may have been true; I’ll never know what my life would be like if I had started working at Google. Looking back, though, I think the rejection was really a blessing.
Maybe the reason I’ve been able to rebound from rejections in the past was that they’ve always been balanced with acceptances. At the same time, I was looking at grad schools.
During the time between my graduation (and Google rejection) and the start of grad school, I had some fun making random web apps like MapsKrieg. This actually led to an opportunity for me to work with a startup called LiveByCampus. It was a pretty neat experience. Who knows, it might also lead to another opportunity some day.
In grad school, I had a lot of fun trying to get internships at companies I thought were really cool. And since I was developing all these new skills, I’d get hired for sure, right? Okay, I actually tried to be a bit more humble this time around. For a while, I was very successful in replicating my previous results of being rejected by Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Zazzle and a number of other companies that didn’t even bother replying to me to tell me I was rejected. I guess I was sorta in a slump again.
Then I was selected (along with my teammates Adam and Gaurav) by RPM Ventures to start a company over last Summer. I realize I haven’t really written much about Troubadour Mobile (our website is very outdated) on my blog. Perhaps I should. To make a long story short, however, Troubadour Mobile turned out to be the best possible internship I could’ve had.
Sidenote: There’s this psychological idea that people will look back at events and see that what ended up happening was the best thing that could’ve happened. I read about this in Stumbling on Happiness. In some cases, people who lost limbs ended up saying it was the best thing to ever happen to them. I don’t think I’m showing this behavior here, but I acknowledge that I could be. End sidenote.
At Troubdour Mobile I had an awesome experience in entrepreneurship. We started an actual company. We got stock certificates! We paid taxes this year! We printed t-shirts! We didn’t, however, get business cards. I guess we were too busy writing an awesome prototype application for the iPhone! I learned a great deal at Troubadour and had a blast.
While I was very happy with the company, I wasn’t sure if I could take the plunge and attempt to live off of a scantily funded student startup after graduation. So I once again began looking for other opportunities. And I still found myself with some rejection (isn’t there some kind of three-strike rule for getting rejected by Facebook?). But I had much better luck this time. I think that the Troubadour Mobile experience had a lot to do with it, but I’m not entirely sure. I successfully interviewed at Orbitz in Chicago (great company and city, btw) and then at Microsoft in Seattle (also a great company (and city), despite what I’ve written previously in this blog, hahaha!).
And so I find myself here in the present. I’m finishing up grad school and will be graduating in May. I’ll be starting as a Program Manager at Microsoft in September. Hopefully I’ll have some time off over the Summer to chill (I’m also going to SXSW with Troubadour Mobile in a few weeks!).
It was through a series of failures and successes, rejections and realizations that I made it here. I think I learned something like a microcosm of this during my stint in entrepreneurship: you don’t just come up with a grand idea and implement it, making millions of dollars. An idea is prototyped and polished before it becomes successful. You come up with a million bad ideas, improving every time. In the same way, I learned from all of my rejections and improved myself along the way until I was able to land what I think will be a sweet job. Yet I’m sure that this isn’t the end of my failing and learning process.
So what’s the big take away? I think it’s that you can never be sure what counts as a true failure and what counts as true success. You can only try your best and keep adjusting along the way to try and get to where you want to be. Had I not been rejected by Google, I would have never gotten the chance to go to school at Michigan, meet many of the great friends I have now and end up with an awesome position at Microsoft. I can’t say the alternate universe version of me at Google wouldn’t have turned out better, but I can say that I am very happy with the way things turned out in this universe.
I also think a large part of success has to do with skill, luck and perseverance. While I believe I’m skilled, I also know I’ve been very lucky. While dumb luck helps a lot, I’ve also tried very hard to make my own luck. To me, this means creating opportunities, working harder to reach out to people and being proactive. You could wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap, but it’s always a good idea to try and speed up the process with a nudge.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by what you perceive as failures and rejections, stay positive. Keep trying. Failures always come with a bit of information about how we can improve for the next time. And if you keep improving, it’s only a matter of time before you find success.