Rejection. You have to deal with it everywhere. You probably are fine with the lottery ticket that calls you a loser, and you even should be used to that painful "let's be friends" from a love interest. And you most likely don't even cry anymore when you can't talk the cop into giving you just another warning for making that illegal turn during rush hour.
But rejection at work -- ouch! A bad review? The new guy gets the promotion you wanted? Now that's painful, and something that's not easy for new workers to get used to.
Many twentysomething workers "are walking around the office with imposter's syndrome," says Azriela Jaffe, author of "Starting From No: 10 Strategies to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection and Succeed at Business." "They still feel like they are 12 years old and somebody is going to figure out that they have no idea what they are doing."
And so, she said, you get that bad review, and blow it into monstrous proportions. All of a sudden you're a worthless human being, you're going to get fired, you're never going to get a job again.
Fear not. It happens to everyone.
But in the meantime, how can you turn workplace rejection into something less paralyzing and more productive?
Everyone who's been in the workplace for more than a month has some old war wounds to talk about. And they've learned along the way that rejection is common, and in most cases can be a great opportunity, and certainly a valuable learning experience.
"There's always going to be disappointments in your career," says Jaffe. But, she said, what's important is to take those disappointments and look at them as a way to change things.
"Don't `catastrophize,'" she said. Or "you'll be making it so you can't move on."
Marilyn J. Haring, education department dean and career development expert at Purdue University, agrees. "Move on," she advises. "Don't dwell on the negative, think about what good came out of it."
Just take that bad review and remember what you're good at. Play on those positives. Keep the negative review in perspective.
"Step back and take a longer view," suggests Jack McLean, senior vice president at District-based Manchester Inc., a management consulting firm. "Particularly for young people, it's easy to get disappointed really quickly. Younger employees are coming from an ... instant gratification life and they often have the feeling in the job market that the gratification ought to be just as easy."
When you step back, he said, remember that "a big part of working at any organization is paying your dues." And don't forget that while negative comments from your boss may seem huge, that person may not care nearly as much as you do, McLean said.
When you're feeling down and out, McLean suggests you do what all those self-help books tell you to do: Sit down and write on a piece of paper your 10 greatest accomplishments, and not necessarily work accomplishments. That, he said, can really put a comment like "you need to check over your work more" into perspective.
Keep Your Cool
"Don't pout and wallow in self-pity," said Lisa Calla-Russ, senior recruiter at Snelling Personnel Services in Tysons Corner. "It's the worst thing you could do."
If you wanted that promotion and you pout, quit or throw a stapler, the boss is only going to thank God he didn't give it to you. And if you stick around after your temper tantrum, more than likely you are going to be passed over for the next promotion too. A five-minute temper tantrum in front of your boss could cost you more than the look you're going to get that day.
Pam Dixon, author of "Job Searching On-Line for Dummies," says, "Make a date with Starbucks." Just calm down, don't do anything rash. Dixon remembers when she got a call from a friend who was on a cell phone in the bathroom of her office. She just learned that a co-worker, who was her subordinate, got the promotion she was vying for.
She wanted to march into her boss's office and quit.
Instead, she sought counseling from the security of a bathroom stall. Dixon talked her off the ledge and told her to think through things.
"If you feel like you're going to say something that has even a whiff of rashness to it, excuse yourself," said Dixon. "Promise yourself that you will not say anything that will jeopardize your future."
The things you want to say, she said, "are going to be self-destructive." There's a good chance the next day, you'll be glad you didn't quit.
After a cup of coffee, try to take a positive attitude. The boss will respect you for it. "The key is to stay in action," said Jaffe. "Keep doing something instead of going to bed and sucking your thumb."
Lessons to Be Learned
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you get a bad review, get passed over for a promotion or get kicked off of a project is that you can learn from these experiences. And that, in itself, is a selling point for later.
"There are companies that prefer to hire people who have had major disappointments," said McLean. "They want people who have tripped and fallen because it's going to happen to everyone anyway." Those companies, he said, know that if a person has gone through a rejection or two, they've learned from it. And that's an asset.
After a major disappointment, go home and regroup, says Dixon. Then go in the next day and schedule a meeting with the person who gave you a bad review -- and maybe even see if his supervisor can come along. Take a paper and pencil to write notes. And tell them that "`In 10 years, I want to be the best person in this field. I'd like you to help me get there,'" she said. Then take their suggestions. "All of a sudden those people that seemed like they hated you yesterday are now on your team and the ball is in their court to help you."
Remember that every day is an education, says Calla-Russ. "Turn obstacles into opportunity. Keep a log of projects you're working on and make sure [supervisors] see your name on it.... Make some noise and get noticed," she advises.
She notes that in every office, there's a project that no one wants to touch. "Tackle it yourself or lead a team to do it. Make it your pet project." You will show that there are no hard feelings from your previous disappointment, and that you have gumption.
If someone else got your promotion, go find a new niche, says Dixon. "Take that lump and say, `If this turf is gone, where can I go to carve a new niche that is all my own?'" she suggests. "Work with this as an opportunity to make your own niche."
And, finally, if worst comes to worst, Dixon said, take the opportunity to figure things out. Maybe this isn't the job for you after all. But remember to take your experience with you, get advice from your soon-to-be previous supervisors and don't burn bridges. It will all work out.
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org