You swore you weren’t going to get your hopes up this time. You silently repeated that mantra, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst,” and you thought you’d carefully tethered your expectations to the ground, unlike the last time when they were swept up in a cyclone of possibilities and what-ifs. You knew it was a long shot—at least that’s what you told yourself after the last interview—but somehow you still found yourself here with that hurricane feeling in the pit of your stomach after reading another one of those disappointingly vague job rejection emails.
If you were being honest, you’d admit that you had gotten your hopes up. Again. Like an eager, sweaty-palmed child with a balloon, the wind took your hopes and you were powerless to get them back. You made the same mistake you’ve made before of letting a job become real to you. You breathed life into it by imagining your life there. You started quantifying the money, happiness, and success it could bring you. You told friends, family, and maybe even coworkers with the subdued excitement of someone who stumbled upon a treasure map while planting petunias in the backyard. It was nothing more than a job listing—bullet points and buzz words on a screen—until you started counting on it like a life preserver for your uncertain future. Until you saw it as your great escape. Until you convinced yourself one job was your only way to progress.
So you gathered up your fear of failure, your self-worth, and your potential onto your shoulders like a modern Atlas sitting behind the glow of your laptop and began the process of agonizing over your resume. You spent an hour struggling with your cover letter, demanding that you get it perfect right down to the letter, hoping that infusing just enough magic will you picked out of a pile. You poured your heart into it, carefully recounting the highlights of your education and career hoping to spark the interest of a stranger who might be having a bad day or who might completely misunderstand your experience.
Against all odds, someone nauseatingly polite with professional headshots on their LinkedIn profile contacted you. After many nervous emails, phone calls, and hand-wringing, you moved forward through the process. You shook the hands of important people with titles and fancy offices and hoped your grip was firm and that you didn’t get too wrinkled on your commute. In those foreboding conference rooms, you were poised. You imagined you were on a televised special sitting opposite Diane Sawyer as you calmly relayed your greatest strengths, career goals, and interests.
You did your research, remained composed, and even remembered to exhale. You left these tribunals overanalyzing everything you forgot to say, but on the whole, you thought your performance was like that of a newborn calf learning to walk: wobbly at first, but strong by the end. You came away feeling positively buoyant, like this could be the start of something big for you. A turning point at a particularly worrying fork in the road. You thought this might be the payoff for hard work that people always talk about. And so like anyone who takes pride in their passion and abilities, you started making hypothetical plans.
In your thirst for change, you became so single-minded that you ignored all your other pursuits so you could fixate on one nice thing that’s never as much of a “sure thing” as it feels. While imagining happy hours with new people and a more impressive bank account, you ignored all obvious shortcomings like distorted street signs that pass in a smeared blur when you’re staring out the window on the train. When the rejection comes, the hardest part isn’t letting the fantasy go; the worst part is pretending that you’re not devastated, because most of us are cynical in that getting too optimistic about chances seems masochistically naïve.
So for all your friends and family, you offer empty shrugs—the kind that only work when you imagine your shoulders are being pulled up my marionette strings—and you pretend not to be upset even though it feels like the world is shining this spotlight of failure only on you. For minutes, hours, maybe even days you’re embarrassed that you believed in yourself, and it feels like the avoidable foolishness that occurs when you buy six losing lottery tickets. You’ll analyze the unknowable trying to figure out what went wrong, mastering the impractical art of unrequited speculation.
It may seem like it will never happen—that you’ll have to wear black to grieve this letdown for the rest of your life—but the feeling will pass, for even when you want to cling most to your despair, it will start fading faster each time as you reach an important realization: No job has the power to create your perfect life. No benefits, prime location, opportunity for growth, or amount of prestige guarantees that any one job will be good or right or “perfect.”
Maybe you were rejected from a great job that would boost your career, or maybe you got turned down for a position that you would’ve hated in six months. Maybe they hired someone better, or maybe they hired someone worse. Not having the chance to even find out hurts as much as it haunts, but trying to seize the unknowable is a lot less productive than seizing the day. So the next time you’re floundering in career prospect disappointment, know that you haven’t lost everything, because you still have yourself, and despite what your resume may be lacking, you will always possess the necessary experience and qualifications to create an amazing life for yourself, blooming with options and accomplishment.