I hopped on a phone call last week with a recruiter for a company I long-desired to work for. I had thirty minutes to prep in between the time I received the email, called my mom to scream about the opportunity at hand, and go over every question I could possibly be asked. As I’m on the job hunt these past few months, ten-minute phone calls just to verify you’re not a serial killer or a robot are nothing new to me. But I’ve never gotten a follow up interview. What I did get were unanswered emails, we-will-get-back-to-you’s, and a bunch of other statements or silence I was readily prepared for. From a young age I programmed myself not to set myself up for disappointment. After being let down so many times, I definitively decided to live my life without expectations. Going on a trip? I won’t get hyped up. Eating at a new restaurant? I won’t read the reviews. I must say sailing through life this way has helped me tremendously as I search for a job. Rejection is inevitable and it’s something I thought I’d even prepared for.
I ended up getting a follow up interview (!!!). No, no exclamation points. I am just going to let that sentence fade into the distance like a familiar elevator song drowning out in the background. I try to stay chill (what is chill and where can I purchase such a thing?) and my mom warns me about not getting too excited. But there I am happy dancing in the doorway. I freeze and say, “I wonder how I got the follow up.” The recruiter was probably in a good mood, I tell myself. No thoughts about my talent, speaking skills, or experience. No mention about how I could’ve, I don’t know, impressed the interviewer? No, this was about luck. This was about somebody doing me a favor, giving me a pass.
I suddenly had a flashback to my 19 year old self, standing in that same hallway, happy dancing because a boy I liked called to ask me out on a date. I couldn’t believe it. “Why do you think he called?” I asked my mom at the time. “Do you think my friend told him I was interested and coerced him into asking me out?” or my favorite: “Why would he call me?” As if I wasn’t deserving of such a thing. As if he was too good for me. (I still hear the echoes of my younger self and I want to kick her.) The strange part is I am a fairly confident person but these questions held an undertone of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. A few dates in I end up asking why he initially called. “After our first conversation I thought you were smart. And attractive. And I was really interested in what you had to say.” I was dumbfounded. After he broke up with me, I was again, dumbfounded. But I thought you said I was attractive, interesting, and smart, I thought to myself (??) I mirrored his rejection as a direct correlation to my entire being. I was just starting to believe he really did think all those things, and there I was stripped of the cushion of his compliments. Ah guess I’m not really smart, I thought. Guess I’m not really attractive. And the funny part is he never said any of those things. Why did I take it so personally? What happened to the girl who doesn’t get disappointed? It was a very new feeling. And it made absolute sense. I always got the job and I’d never been broken up with. Up until that point I never felt rejection. And I didn’t know how to react.
What I did feel— and I think on some level every woman (and man? I’m not sure of your feelz) feels—is like I wasn’t good enough. That I’m too much or too little. I still find myself saying things like I’m too opinionated, I’m not capable enough, I’m too open, I’m not a good enough writer, I’m not a good enough listener, I’m not good enough… enough. Enough is enough. The deprecating ways in which we speak to ourselves has to stop and I wish I could single-handedly prevent such a powerful phenomenon. Being afraid of rejection is the reason why so many people won't take risks, won't put themselves out there. Sure vulnerability is frightening, but running away from it, running away from the possibility of landing the person you want or the job you want, is much scarier to me.
Once I realized his fading interest in me had nothing to do with my self-worth, my value, me— it prepared me for the rejection I would face in the future. It prepared me for the happy dance I did in the hallway when I got the follow up interview. It will prepare me if ultimately I don’t get offered the job. It will prepare me if another boy comes along and doesn’t want to date me. I’m not saying rejection doesn’t suck. It does. But I’m tired of having to be reassured. I’m tired of measuring my worth based on what people think about me. They say I’m smart, therefore I’m smart. They say I’m a good writer, therefore I’m a good writer. I want to wholeheartedly believe it myself. For the most part I believe it but with all things it rides a tidal wave filled with ebbs and flows. I could imagine it's the same way somebody feels when they don't get enough instagram likes. Therefore, the picture wasn't pretty enough, therefore I should delete it. Social media has fueled the notion to measure our worth based on what other people think.
Rejection is all those cliché mantras people reassure you with: “It’s a blessing in disguise.” “Something better is waiting for you.” “It’s all for the best.” But my new motto, the one I get to reassure myself with and hope you reassure yourself with is: “You are still amazing. And great. And incredible. And every other synonym that means you’re the shit. And you can conquer anything you fucking want.”