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What I Learned from a Career Setback is Helping me through the Current Crisis

Rejections stick with us but they can leave behind a layer of resilience if we let them.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

For several years I had been building relationships and skills to pursue a career in student affairs (supporting university students with their personal and professional goals). I went to numerous workshops and spent countless hours revising my resume and practising for job interviews. Following many silent rejections and a few failed interview attempts, I was invited to interview for a Career Advisor position. This role was something I was trained for and aligned with my long-term goals and aspirations.

Just to be safe, I applied to other positions including summer internships. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. After weeks of grueling interviews, it seemed like things were finally looking up. I made it to round-three for the Career Advisor position as their top candidate. I declined an internship and withdrew from a first-round interview for another job. I guess I was putting all my eggs in.

The week everything came to a head went like this. Sunday, I was asked to provide references for the Career Advisor position. Tuesday, I did a round-two interview for a Research Development Officer position which felt like a disaster from beginning to end. Wednesday, I was told that I wasn’t the right fit for the Career Advisor position. My mind began racing, thinking about my bungled round-two interview the day before, the internship I had declined, and the round-one interview I had just withdrawn from.

This may sound normal for people familiar with the highs and lows of job searching. But for me, it felt humiliating and demoralizing. I had gotten my hopes up and it had all come to a crashing halt. What did I do next? I did all the things I’m doing now which are helping me get through the current crisis.

Be open to your own potential

That bungled round-two interview, or so I thought, eventually turned into a job offer. I was so focused on the Career Advisor position that I couldn’t see the potential others saw in me. I had never done any networking in Research Development like I had with student affairs. It just felt too easy. But it wasn’t. All the work I did had paid off in an unexpected way with people who saw my skills and talents as new and refreshing.

In January of this year, I started a new role in the same field. My contract was scheduled to end this spring and little did I know there would be a global pandemic threatening our very way of life. Had I closed myself off to something new, something I hadn’t planned, I would have been in a dire situation with student debt and the high costs of living. Through these highs and lows, I have learned that a little self-doubt keeps you on your toes but it’s important to be open to your own potential and what you have to offer.

Take back your story

As I transitioned to a new role this year, I had this sinking feeling. I had been planning for a career in student affairs with no luck. Don’t get me wrong I’m incredibly grateful to be working and realize how fortunate I am. But I started thinking about how I had suddenly become a Grant Facilitator—a job I never conceived of a year and a half ago. I shared these concerns with my career coach and he said something that has helped me take stock of who I am with everything happening all around me.

He said “you’re not a Grant Facilitator; you are a storyteller who currently works in grant facilitation.”

Taking back my story has helped me stay true to my goals and aspirations. With all of the uncertainty that lies ahead, I find it comforting to think of my identity as a storyteller. Writing serves as a daily reminder of the importance of being authentic and honest with myself about my career choices and what they mean.  

Let yourself be hopeful

After receiving a rejection on that fateful Wednesday, I started kicking myself for letting that bit of hope seep in, believing that I would land the job. Now as I reflect on our current situation, I think hope is necessary to get through difficult times even if the odds are against you.

And hope is not static. It’s something you continue to adapt and helps you keep looking forward. Snyder describes hope as a “rainbow of the mind”. The rainbow represents hope and the “spectrum of human strength.” Hope allows you to imagine “what is possible.”

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