Dear Carolyn: Several times in the past few years, leadership roles and spots in selective groups that I really wanted have gone to other people. For the most part, I am at peace with this; I had my grieving period, and I try my hardest not to let it affect my day-to-day life. However, it is very difficult to watch the people who were chosen for these positions not doing a better job than I know I could do, and not appreciating what they have been given as much as I would, when I know I was just as qualified, if not more; worked just as hard, if not more; and wanted the positions just as much, if not more.
I feel guilty that I am having these snide thoughts — these people are perfectly nice and have done nothing wrong to me personally. I don’t want to be the kind of person who harbors grudges and stays bitter over these things. How do I move on, so I can stop feeling so miserable?
— Class of ’22
Class of ’22: Could be worse! They could succeed!
Still, I'm not sure there is a cure for watching someone prove you should have gotten their job.
Schadenfreude leaves a guilty aftertaste, as you rightly point out. Dammit.
Corrections — where they say “oops” and hand the job to you after all — are rare, if not unicorns.
Reframing is a great option when your life takes a rewarding turn after a rejection, allowing you to credit the rejection for making the good thing possible. But it is a bit like waiting for your life to happen.
Averting your eyes is a strong, underrated approach — I get so few chances to counsel denial! — but only when used sparingly. Leaving everywhere puts you nowhere.
Logic, maybe? I'm all for it: It's true that you don't know, can't know, whether you deserved the job equally or wanted it more, or would have done it better, worked as hard, or appreciated it more. It's also true that selective positions generally could be filled many times over by qualified candidates, so someone deserving almost always goes home empty-handed, you included. It's true that people choosing candidates are flawed and can make mistakes. It's true that accepting this and moving on and remaining open to new opportunities is the only way to live fully and not go nuts. And win one eventually. Yay logic. But now try to tell your feelings how great logic is.
Time and maturity are cures since they ease both competitiveness and the disappointment of losing, but if, “You'll feel better in a few decades,” is the only cure, then there is no cure.
Creating your niche, then owning it? Yes!! Also slow.
So I have this: If you can't beat it, dilute it.
When your nagging disappointments and the next competition are all you have, they’re all you think about. When you have other pursuits besides competitive work/school, however, ones that aren’t subject to judges or a selection committee or aimed at a prize — when they’re entirely your own — then your life will have less room for these disappointments to settle in.
Such interests must be genuine to be effective, but you can prod them along, whether it’s cultivating hobbies or immersing yourself in friends or singing badly to your playlists in the car. Anything but notches in the “success” belt. I ask you, does your dog care that you lost out to a lesser candidate? No, he does not. (Good dog.) Full lives can absorb a lot.
This column has been updated.
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