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How I Handle the Fear of Rejection

jacobherrington profile image Jacob Herrington (he/him) ・4 min read

This is a slightly edited version of a short blurb I sent out to my email subscribers in November.

Howdy 🤠

This is my first time writing to you, so thanks for all of your patience, and sorry if you were enjoying the silence.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop before RubyConf kicks off, listening to one of my favorite songs (2112 by Rush), and thinking about a DM I got on Twitter recently.

A 20-year video game industry veteran just reached out to me. He has worked for Blizzard, Twitch, and a bunch of other cool companies.
He also runs a hosting service that is really cool and unique (he is running it at cost as a hobby)!

He works remotely from Portugal, and I guess it's been tough being a remote worker in the esports industry over the last few years.

Right now, he is searching for a new job and struggling to find a good fit. In particular, he is interested in technical roles because he spent the beginning of his career in a SysAdmin role.

I actually think he'd be a great fit for any company looking to grow an SRE team. (If you're looking for an SRE or developer with great communication skills shoot me a DM!)

Anyway, I'm writing to you so I can share some advice that I've given 100 times, but never written down. Our friend in Portugal is having some fears concerning rejection as he searches for a new job. That fear of rejection is universal; I feel it, and I'm sure you feel it.

Being someone who really feels the effects of social anxiety, the fear of rejection has always been a big part of my life, but I've gotten to a point where I do a pretty good job of coping with it.

People frequently mistake me for an extrovert because I'm always advocating for networking and transparency, but in reality, I'm super introverted. I've just become really comfortable being uncomfortable.

My strategy for overcoming my fear of rejection (and extroversion in general) is the same strategy I used to get comfortable taking cold showers. It's sort of a homebrew version of exposure therapy.

Every day, I spent 10 extra seconds standing in cold water before I turn on the warm water. I started with 30 seconds. At this point, I could easily take a 3 or 4 minute cold shower. I'm pretty comfortable with that level of discomfort.

The same tactic can work for dealing with any discomfort. I faced my social anxiety by making cold calls and reaching out to people on LinkedIn years ago. I wrote about why I did that on DEV last week.

After I had been rejected a few dozen times, I started to feel a lot more comfortable with that feeling of rejection, and it became easier to shrug off the feeling of defeat when someone didn't respond the way I had hoped.

I think, when it comes to job hunting, a big resource for this fear of rejection is the idea of "requirements."

Think about the last job posting you looked at, did you focus on the blurb about the company, or did you scroll down to the bold requirements heading?

When I look at job ads, I frequently ignore the requirements section completely (sorry recruiters) because I've found both as an applicant and as someone hiring engineers that the "requirements" are really just a wish list.

In reality, 90%* of the applicants to any given job aren't going to meet the requirements. Most of them don't even come close.

I'd be willing to bet that I haven't met the requirements for any tech job I've ever had.

All you're doing by looking deep into the requirements for a job is fueling that fear of rejection.

In fact, this applies to almost everything in life: Asking an attractive person on a date, joining a club or team, asking for a promotion, whatever.

We have perceived requirements for all of the things we do, and those requirements are like gasoline for the fear of rejection.

I sometimes catch myself thinking, "Well, I don't have X, so Y isn't realistic for me." When that kind of thinking creeps into your head, you've got to stop and remind yourself that the absolute worst outcome of this sort of interaction is a resounding, "No."

And that is a great thing! Because a hearing, "No," is just another opportunity to get comfortable with the discomfort of rejection.

Ultimately, it won't have any effect on the outcome of your next attempt to apply for a job you want, even the ones you aren't "qualified" for.

So my advice is this: When you're applying for a job, reaching out for coffee, asking for a raise, or whatever, ignore the perceived requirements.

The worst outcome is that you get a little more comfortable with rejection.

Thanks for reading!

Shoot me an email if you've got any thoughts on rejection.

If you want to hear more of my ramblings, you can sign up for my emails.

*Disclaimer: I made that stat up.

There's more...

I'm writing a lot of articles these days, I run a podcast, and I've started sending out a newsletter digest about all of the awesome stories I'm hearing.

You can also follow me on Twitter, where I make silly memes and talk about being a developer.

Discussion

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torianne02 profile image
Victoria Crawford

This is an amazing take on rejection.

When I first started looking for developer jobs, every single rejection hurt. Eventually, I started to feel comfortable with receiving rejections. Now, they don't bother me (unless I get really excited and hopeful). I always tell myself now that when one door closes another opens.

Thank you for writing this article, Jacob!

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jacobherrington profile image
Jacob Herrington (he/him) Author

I feel the same way, and it took a lot of discomfort to get to the place I'm at now.

But I still get discouraged and definitely still fear rejection, I just know to keep it in perspective!

Glad you enjoyed the article!

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rotcl profile image
Gabriel Vial

I'll start thinking as like you; I'm working since 2012, and since 2017 as a frontend programmer, and I don't like to look for jobs because the "always in mind" rejection, even previouly the meeting.
Several days ago, I had a job interview, was like a dreaming job for me, but yesterday they send me a (pretty cool) rejection. I feel a little bit shitty, but could be worse, would consider this post the next time.

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jacobherrington profile image
Jacob Herrington (he/him) Author

Keep your head up, we've all been rejected from "dream" jobs. Something will come along! 😀

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richardeschloss profile image
Richard Schloss

I've just learned to change my thinking as to what the word should really be. What is perceived as a "rejection" could really be perceived as an "early-identified mismatch" which could actually be a good thing. Can you imagine getting a $300k/yr job (i.e., "passing the interview"), but arguing with a coworker every second? Both people may have smart approaches/ideas, but both would probably end up exhausting all their health insurance benefits in doctor's offices than actually enjoying life and career.

(But yes, sometimes it is frustrating when the conclusion of "mismatch" is false. I've just learned in that case that humans make mistakes, and I still stay passively-networked with that person in case either of us was wrong about the mismatch)

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jorgecc profile image
Jorge Castro

It is my face when I am rejected because the company picked somebody better.

And it is my face when I am rejected because the business picked a lousy candidate, then later they complain against all developers because they are bad and lazy.

And later

PS: Usually, it happens the later one.

PS2: f* HR!.

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Williams Oluwafemi

The fear is not rejection, the fear is realizing you might not be as good as you thought

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cescquintero profile image
Francisco Quintero 🇨🇴

Rejection is what makes someone think they are not good enough when they actually are.

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cescquintero profile image
Francisco Quintero 🇨🇴

because I've found both as an applicant and as someone hiring engineers that the "requirements" are really just a wish list.

This is gold and I've found myself in that situation where jumping right to the requirements section.

Will try to apply this lesson next time(s) :)