Managing Rejection and Disappointment: The Student Experience

It’s surprising how common rejection and disappointment can be to student life. This can happen with jobs, grades, extracurricular activities, or even taking into account the effects of the pandemic. Read this post for practical tips for combating rejection in student life.

Recently, my applications for summer internships have been met with a constant stream of “I’m sorry we’re not able to offer you a role”. After several consecutive rejections, it can become incredibly hard to pick yourself back up and keep trying. After all, it seems much easier to lower your ambitions in order to avoid further rejections. This mindset is difficult to deconstruct but is important to tackle so that you can accept later opportunities.

Reflect, then Move On

Don’t be afraid to look back on your failure! When I receive a disappointing grade, I have a habit of immediately pushing it out of my mind to avoid feeling too upset. However, it can be important to feel those negative feelings, as well as reflect on what might have gone wrong. Often, tutors or employers will be more than willing to offer you feedback and advice to improve your chances of success. Looking back over your choices and actions can often help guide you the next time you attempt something similar. It is also equally important to be able to move on from your disappointments. This is something easier said than done – I still remember losing a quiz aged 10 because I didn’t know the definition of the word ‘penultimate’!  Once you begin the tricky task of reflecting on a mistake, it’s easy to start obsessing over an error while believing you’re attempting to learn from it. Something I find useful to help move on from a disappointment is writing it down. Whether it’s in a fancy bullet journal, or just a Notes app on your phone, logically recording the event and how you can learn from it helps separate reality from your emotions, which might be clouding your current judgement.This makes moving on much easier, as you prevent your disappointment from halting your progression past the rejection.

Managing Rejection and Disappointment: The Student Experience

Acknowledge Your Successes

When you hear disappointing news about a job or a grade, it can feel like you’ll never achieve anything ever again. While the logical part of your brain may know this isn’t true, it’s certainly difficult to look past current events in order to recognise your previous successes. My favourite technique for reminding yourself of your previous achievements (which I have recommended before!) is a Success Sheet. This is a document that you can create by noting down achievements that make you feel proud. Then, in times of disappointment and rejection, you can look back over this sheet and remind yourself of the concrete successes you have accrued over the years. Acknowledging your success within the rejection can also be useful – despite not getting a job or role, your attitude and accolades deserve recognition! Allow yourself to accept that a rejection for a job may have simply been because there was a slightly more qualified or experienced candidate. This is no reflection on your own abilities – which may have been perfect for the role – but just means that someone else fitted the position better.

Managing Rejection and Disappointment: The Student Experience

Don’t Lower Your Aspirations

Rejection can often make you wary of risking disappointment again, resulting in you lowering your goals. This might manifest in not applying for a job, or not making a new connection, or not trying something new, just because things went badly last time. It’s important to remember that this approach is a rejection in itself, only this time it’s you deciding to disappoint yourself. The only way to stop yourself from lowering your aspirations is simply to work through it. Try to ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen? If the answer is just embarrassment or disappointment, then ask: what’s the best that can happen? Only you can decide if the best outcome outweighs the risk of the worst outcome, but often the potential benefits exceed your temporary hurt feelings.

Managing Rejection and Disappointment: The Student Experience

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