How to transform rejection into resilienceFeatured
This post highlights some of the lessons I have learned throughout my career and how I have reframed the fear of rejection as a catalyst to resilient thinking. Lesson 1: Don’t use feeling uncomfortable as an excuse to not show up for yourself.As a first generation college student, I had no idea why I wanted an Associates degree. No one ever showed me how to pursue higher education or spoke with me about how a college degree could be leveraged in life. Miraculously, my head followed my feet and I somehow found myself in the registrar's office enrolling in two classes - enough units to qualify me as a part time student. That first semester, I received an ‘F’. It was a microeconomics class where I felt uncomfortably out of place - so much so, that I didn’t show up. I distinctly remember looking at the transcript and feeling awful about myself. A few days later, I realized, “If I never apply myself how will I know what I’m actually capable of?”. Two years later, I transferred to the University of California, Berkeley with a 3.5 GPA. Takeaways: If I had accepted that I was not destined to go to college, I would have never applied. If I had accepted that an ‘F’ meant I was a failure, I would have continued to not show up.Lesson 2: Always ask for more. Chances are you will get it. I graduated from school with high honors - receiving multiple awards for academic excellence and a shiny new job offer. It was from a 2,000+ company in Redlands, California that pioneered geospatial analytics software. Before joining the team I did not research cost of living or know to ask questions about diversity, opportunities for career advancement, salary bands etc. So I joined “blind.” After a year of working at Esri, I missed living in Oakland. That longing coupled with the recognition that there was very little room for immediate upward mobility resulted in my applying to a scrappy young startup. Two months later (after multiple follow-ups and interviews), I received an offer. I had no idea what I was in for. What I did know was I negotiated my salary up from $60,000 to $110,000 and I was thrilled. Takeaways: If I had accepted that an unanswered email meant I was not a high-caliber candidate, I would have never reached back out to the hiring manager to secure the interview that led to the job. If I had accepted the first offer I received from the hiring manager, I would have agreed that my time was worth less than I wanted it to be. Lesson 3: Leverage gaps in leadership as a way to carve out an aggressive career path.I showed up to my first day of work. There was a laptop, one day of onboarding, and a desk; I immediately regretted my decision. The work was redundant and directionless, I was the only woman on my team, and shortly after I joined, they raised a Series C from Softbank. In the two and a half years I was there, I had eight different managers and three different men take credit for work I had produced. At the same time, I continued to exceed performance expectations: in my first two years, I sourced $5M in new business opportunities, helped spin up two operational programs, and was promoted to Solutions Architect & Product Lead (a coveted position where I was the only woman and only non-engineer on the team). Takeaways: While I was not considered for new internal opportunities, I continued to apply for roles as they came up and challenged senior leadership on why I was being passed up for positions my male colleagues were being given. If I accepted the “no” I heard from senior leadership or bought into the expectations others had of me, I would have settled for less than I was able to achieve. If I waited to be told what to do next, I wouldn’t have demonstrated what I could do next. Lesson 4: Critically think about the company values and if they are reflected in your direct manager. After Mapbox, I joined a deep learning startup as their Head of Growth where I negotiated my salary up from $120,000 to the mid $100s. While it wasn’t a cultural fit, I learned a lot about what I want from a team and in a position. Specifically, I made the mistake of buying into the vision of the product without critically assessing the cultural context I was going to join. I failed to ask questions about team values, how decisions are made, accountability, expectations, and work-life balance. Takeaways: If I had accepted that a cultural misalignment meant that I was the problem, I would have struggled to see how I had been able to excel despite a conflicting cultural climate. If I registered a desire to leave as an inability to do good work, I wouldn’t have been able to pivot.Lesson 5: When presented with an opportunity to explore a new career path, take it.In January, I found myself in between jobs and in search of my next opportunity. My confidence in my ability to pick the right team was completely shot and it showed when I interviewed for full-time positions. Fortunately, I was asked by a founder in my network to join his startup as a consultative Chief of Staff. I have always loved the idea of partnering with early-stage entrepreneurs, so agreed to a temporary role. Shortly thereafter I was asked by another founder to join as a product consultant, then another, then another. This was primarily a result of timing, networking, and cold emails. Now, I am a self-employed consultant helping pre-seed and seed-stage tech startups think through their go-to-market and product strategy. Takeaways: If I had been afraid to trust in my skills, I would not have taken the risk of consulting. If I had let the residue of my inability to make things work with my last team guide my actions, I would have settled for a safe bet. Lesson 6: Refusing to let the fear of rejection drive you will power your resilience.I still get rejected all the time. I have asked people for favors with no response, been given client leads who want me to work for free, and reached out to women in VC for mentorship who never responded. In spite of this, I have been able to make positive steps towards my goals. For example, despite being rejected for Associate positions at VCs, I continue to work with entrepreneurs who are turning a profit on their go-to-market strategy and help them raise funding. Despite being rejected for positions with large tech companies, I continue to be interviewed for positions where I am the youngest candidate being considered for the role. So, in the end, the rejection doesn’t bother me as much. Why? Because I choose to categorize the act of preserving beyond acts of rejection as another reason I am resilient.Lesson 7: If you’re reading this, you’re a badass. I know the world is tough right now - more so than usual. My mom is a small business owner and I don’t always know who my next client is going to be. Also, if you are working and living in the Bay Area like me, not only is it hyper-competitive, but we are often competing with people who have generational wealth and privilege. Despite that, I just wanted to take a minute to remind myself and you that we can transform our relationship to our story. Often this is what enables us to excel despite the odds. So, with all that said, here is my mantra:I refuse to let rejection limit me. I see how rejection has shaped me. My response to rejection is what has made me resilient.Our response to rejection is what makes us resilient. Stay strong, y’all.