How to Handle Rejection in Your Career

How to Handle Rejection In Your Career | Writing Between Pauses

In case you’re wondering how my freelance prospects have gone the last few weeks, here’s a good example conversation I feel like I’ve had about 400 times:

Prospect: So how much would that be?

Me: Well, I charge $250 for an initial strategy, then actual content creation would be $800 per month.

Prospect: (sharp inhale of breath, mild gasp) well that’s just too much! I guess we’ll think about it and get back to you.

Readers, they do not get back to me. They’re never going to back to me. I know that. You know that. They know that.

Even worse than this example is the people who arrange meetings with me, sit across from me in coffee shops acting interested, or spend an hour on the phone with me pretending to be interested, only to ask the inevitable: “So what happened with [name of agency]?” (In case you didn’t read this blog post, I got laid off from the agency I worked at for 5 years, alongside all my coworkers. It sucked, but I’m doing ok!)

I know what I look like when that happens: the smile on my face becomes just a little more strained, my eyes crinkled up. I want to cry because I always know the question will come in every interview and meeting and phone call for the next few years. I have to say the same thing over and over: “It’s not really my story to tell and if you met with me for gossip, you met with the wrong person.” After that, we usually finish up our coffees and they pretend to want a rate sheet, or they pretend that they’ll let me know when they want to move forward and sign a contract. But they won’t. They won’t answer my phone calls or respond to my emails.

I know that. You know that. And they know that.

It’s fine, really. I have some prospects that look great. But the type of rejection I’ve been getting lately has been different from any other type of rejection I’ve ever experienced. It’s not just not getting a job where there were tons of applicants and, ok, maybe I’m not the most qualified. It’s rejection based entirely on me and my skill level and what I’m asking to be paid. Or worse, it’s a type of rejection that happened before I even got a chance: they only wanted to talk to me for gossip that I was never going to use to leverage getting paid.

I feel a lot of things about being laid off, about losing a job I’ve loved for 5 years, but one thing I’ll never feel is like I have to use any gossip about that job in order to get paid. I’d rather be dirt poor than do that, thank you very much.

It sucks to be told you’re charging too much. It sucks to feel like people only want to talk to you so they can get dirt on someone else. (And they’re never going to get dirt about other people from me, that’s just the rules.) And it sucks to have all of this happening when I otherwise feel really vulnerable and unsure about my future and what I want and what I’m doing generally.

Rejection sucks even at the best of times. But when you’re already struggling, it can feel like an even bigger burden.

Luckily, I’ve found a few ways to deal with my feelings of rejection in the last few weeks. I wanted to share them, as I know for many women and young professionals, rejection can be a huge barrier many of us face as we start our careers. Whether we are just out of college, going back to work after maternity leave, or starting fresh after being laid off (or simply leaving a toxic workplace), the truth is we are going to get rejected. It doesn’t have to be such a big knock to your confidence, so let’s talk tips for coping.

1. Fill Your Time

I recently signed up for Vix Meldrew’s Grow & Glow, which I highly recommend for bloggers. The reason is because I needed something to do. I just… needed something! I don’t know how to explain it, but I couldn’t spend one more of my scheduled “work hours” applying to jobs, rewriting my resume for the 400th time, or drafting a LinkedIn post. Or worse, writing another networking email.

I needed something positive to channel all the energy I usually dedicate to my job into it. Something! Anything! So I decided, for the equivalent of $13 a month, Grow & Glow was the perfect level of dedication: modules I can work on at my leisure, always giving me something to read, watch, and journal about when I’m sitting in a coffee shop.

I’m not tell you to sign up for Grow & Glow. (Although, again, I really love it! It’s helped my blog immensely in the last few weeks.) I am telling you to find something to use your energy on. If you’re currently looking for a job, or you are starting your career, or you just have hours to fill that you wish you were spending working on something… find something to fill your time. It might be a cheap online course. It might be a new certification. It might be learning a new language! Anything that will help you and your career and give purpose to your days is important, especially if you struggle with anxiety when you don’t have anything to do.

I know for me, I hate not having at least 2-3 things on my to do list every day. So having something that I can automatically look to for tasks is important.

2. Spend Time with Friends

If you’re struggling to start your career, or really getting down about your career prospects, here’s one thing to consider: spend some time with your friends. I know it can feel daunting, especially if you’re not working while everyone else is. (I definitely felt this just after I had Forrest; I wasn’t working, at a job at least, but everyone I knew was and it was an incredibly isolating experience.) However, send that text message or email. Reach out on Facebook or LinkedIn. Meet with old coworkers, or old friends, or new friends. Meet for coffee. Talk about what you’re going through. Ask for advice. Ask for potential connections.

Even if nothing comes from it, spending time with your friends can boost your mood and help alleviate the isolation you can feel when you’re getting rejected (by jobs, by potential clients, by what feels like everyone). Reach out to your friends, let them know what’s going on in your life, and they’ll be more likely to check on you as well.

3. Take Care of Yourself

This goes without saying but: rejection often isn’t personal.

Even though it feels personal (and lately, everything I’ve experienced feels SO intensely personal), it’s really… not. It’s not! If you don’t get a job you really wanted, it most likely isn’t because you are lacking in some way; it’s because there were tons of qualified applicants and they just happened to pick someone over you. If a prospect says “no” to your freelance services, it’s most likely not because they don’t like you; they probably just aren’t ready to commit anyway (and would therefore probably have made a terrible client).

You deserve a career that leaves you feeling fulfilled and happy. You will find it.

But in the meantime, when everything you’re told feels like a slamming door in your face, take care of yourself. Take a long bubble bath. Read your favorite book. Go out to dinner even though you’re stressed about money. Take your kids to the park or go to a music show with your partner or friends. Don’t treat yourself badly just because you feel badly about how the world is treating you. You come first in your life, so take care of you, show yourself love, and don’t allow rejection to turn into self-hatred.

4. Look at Rejection Realistically

Like I said: rejection is hardly ever personal. Sometimes it is, that’s true. Sometimes, you just might not click with a client.

I recently had to fire a client who I had actually been working with for a long time. I had had some reservations starting work with this client from the get go; they seemed disorganized, very slow to reply, and unsure of what they needed and what they were doing. But I personally really liked them. I should have said, “You know what? No.” I should have been the one to reject them, but I didn’t because I didn’t want them to think I didn’t like them or support their business. (I do like them and I do want to support their business.)

Things went bad fast. They were not an ideal client. They didn’t reply to emails and then, weeks later, would question why something hadn’t moved forward. (Because they hadn’t replied to my emails!) Long story short: I should have said no. Because rejection is about doing the best work possible sometimes, not about how much we like someone.

A potential employer can like you a lot and think you’re incredibly talented… and still say no. Here’s another example: since I graduated college in 2011, I have applied and interviewed at a business at least 4 times! Every single time, the owner tells me how incredible I seem as an employee, how impressed she is with my skills… then she hires someone else. For a long time, I thought she was just doing this to neg me or make me feel inferior—or worse, she was just lying about my skills. But recently, I was talking about this with someone and they said, “she probably thinks you’re great, but just not right for that specific job.” Isn’t that the truth? The rejection wasn’t personal; I just wasn’t the best fit for the job, even though I desperately wanted to be.

All I’m saying is: when it comes to getting that “no” (that can be so painful, so ill-timed), sometimes it’s not really about you. Sometimes it’s about someone else. Not every “no” is a “not good enough”; most of the time, “no” is just “sorry, no.”

Do you have any tips for handling rejection? Share with me in the comments!

The Hardest Part of Being in Content Marketing

I think by this point, anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty high strung: I'm neurotic and I pretty much worry 24/7. It's not super pleasant, but it's who I am. 

I often tell Danny that I worry I don't work hard enough, that I don't write enough, that I'm just not doing enough. 

This is a weird combination of worrying that I'm being seen as lazy when I relax and imposter syndrome, which is when you're constantly waiting for the people around you to realize you are a fraud. 

Again, not super pleasant, but incredibly common. 

When it comes to content marketing, I spend most of my days writing: social media, email campaigns, blogs. You name it, I'm writing it. When I'm not at work, I'm at home, thinking of blogs to write for my personal blog, thinking of social media to post. By my own counts, I'm creating about 85% of my day. 

And yet, sometimes, at the end of the day, I'll say to Danny, "I wish I had more time to write." 

Every time I say this, he looks at me like I am crazy. And really, I am. He always says that my writing output is prolific; of everyone he knows, he says, I write the most, period. But I don't believe it.

When I add up the words in my head, it feels disjointed. Something seems off about it. 

I had a talk with myself about this the other day, especially as NaNoWriMo approaches. I wonder if I'll be able to write 50,000 words in a month alongside all the other writing I do. Will I have time? 

I want to write more, but at the same time, I realize that I write so much during the day. I crank out content at a near constant rate. 

My boss often says that in a work capacity, especially in creative positions, you're output level is about 80%: you can work 30-32 hours a week pretty successfully, but those last 8 hours of work... are rough. Human beings are not designed to be creating 100% of the time, especially at professional levels. It's just not possible. Our brains get tired. 

But sometimes, that's what I expect from myself. "Why can't I write an emailer campaign, two blogs, two weeks worth of social media, and a short story all in one day!?" I don't think I literally think that, but sometimes, when I'm beating myself up for not spending more time writing in the evening, I can't help but wonder if that's how I think. 

For me this is the hardest part of working in content marketing: the creative drain it puts on me. 

I put all my creative energy into content creation, 65% of which benefits my job (not my personal brand). The rest of the time, I'm creating for my blog--which leaves very little time to create for myself. That includes journaling, scrapbooking, and fiction writing. 

It's exhausting. And it's hard. 

It's hard to be a creative in content marketing. Sometimes, it feels like a void that is just pulling me in and giving me very little in return for all the creative energy it uses. 

But realistically, it's up to me to draw the line. I can push myself: I can scramble to fill up the rest of my day with creative writing, alongside everything else I do; or I can take a break from something. 

What I decide to do will ultimately only be benefit: I can either work on my anxiety and my creative spirit; or I can more fully take on my career in content marketing. It's a draw, at this point. 

6 Tips for Surviving Internships

As you all remember, internships were my bread and butter for several months of my life after graduating college. At one point in time, I was working part-time at a grocery store deli and doing three (yes, three!) internships at once. It was exhausting. 

I learned a lot from doing internships and more than anything, I gained experience that made me seem invaluable to employers. With new graduates every year, there are a new league of unemployed and terrified graduates who have no idea what they are doing and no idea where to start. Hopefully, these tips can be a help to them. 

I'm certainly not an internship expert, but I do know a few things. These tips are for current students, new graduates, and anyone who is wanting to start a new career. 

1. Yes, you do need to do an internship or two. 

Or seven, in my case. In college, I did two substantial internships, but I was a rarity. A majority of the people I knew did one internship, or independent study, as they were considered the same thing. This, unfortunately, means there is a substantial portion of college students graduating with one three-month period of professional experience. That's... not great, guys. Do an internship; if you can, do two. If you really can, do more than two. Do as many as you can when you are in school and can afford it. An internship can be anything, really: writing articles on the side for a local publication, volunteering your services as a local animal shelter, or working the counter at a women's shelter. There are tons of internships out there that are not in offices. 

I realize this is hard for people who are paying for school, and housing, and everything else, entirely by themselves. You might feel you have to decide between part-time (or full-time) work or an internship: one benefits the now, one benefits the future. Which leads me to...

2. Do know that you'll have to make sacrifices. 

Something like 99% of internships are unpaid. And paid internships are basically like fighting a gladiator: the very, very lucky receive paid internships. That's not to say "don't apply for paid internships"; it's more of a "don't put all your eggs in one basket" life tip. 

If you need to work part-time, but you want to do internships to make sure you get a job after college (which, really, I hope that's why you're in college), know that you'll need to make sacrifices. This applies if you're a new graduate working a weird part-time job, as well. You'll basically be working over full-time, but only be paid for part of it. You'll be exhausted, but the experience is ultimately worth it.

One last note on this: I know this is an unfair and messed up system. But, here's the thing: it's easier to tear down a broken system from the inside. Once we're all the CEOs and leaders of the world, we can change this--and I'm 99% sure we will. For now, however, these are just the facts, as crappy as they are.  

3. Do know that you can use part-time job experience to impress employers. 

Do you worked through college, or the months after college, at a retail job, while doing internships? Don't tell potential employers you were just doing internships. Say the reality! "I was going to school full-time, working part-time at McDonald's, and then I did 3 internships in 6 months." Excuse me, but that's impressive. What did you learn working that hard? What did it make you realize? What skills did you gain (prioritizing, budgeting, time management)? These experiences can be used to your advantage. Don't be humble. Brag. 

4. Do know that you can consider blogging an internship or even a job.

I always include my blog on my resume. I always talked about what blogging and social media has taught me and how I could apply those skills to the job I was interviewing for. For this reason, keep your blog up: keep it professional and make it awesome. In short, make your hobby count for something and know how to talk about it, professionally, in interviews. 

5. Do know you can e-mail any business asking if they need interns. 

So, you can't find any local internship opportunities. What's stopping you from emailing local businesses to see what you can offer them? You're not asking for money. Ask if you can job shadow, or intern, for a week or two. Ask if you can at least meet them to talk. Mention why you're interested in interning for the company and what you hope to gain from it, and why only they can offer it. People love to feel special; make HR feel special when they receive that email. 

When I first graduated, I spent hours applying to jobs and emailing local businesses -- mostly PR and marketing firms, some publishing companies -- I wanted to work for. I heard back from some; I never heard back from others. But it was a way to introduce myself and set myself apart. If they do have job openings in the future, I can always slyly mention that I emailed them as a new graduate and how I'm still so excited to have the opportunity to work for them. Sneaky, huh? 

6. Don't think internships are magic job machines.

They're really not. I did seven internships after college and it still took me eight months to a get a job that didn't include orthopedic shoes. It took me another nearly two years until I got a job in my field. An internship is never going to magically get you a job; you'll still have to work for it, remain interesting, and interview well. And sometimes, the timing has to be just right.  

In short, when it comes down to it, internships are an important stepping stone for entering the real world; you can't ignore their importance, but they certainly aren't magic. Work hard, do your best, and no matter what, do things that will set you apart from the crowd, whether it's starting your own freelance business or managing an amazing blog.

10 Things I've Learned Since Graduating College

I originally wrote this post (and a follow up of "10 More Things I've Learned") for my old blogs, Locked Out and Ellipsis. I have continued to learn things since I graduated from college--can you believe it was 5 years ago? I feel like that's not possible, but it is. Danny and I have been dating for 5 years; we've been married for 2. Where did the time go? Here's my revised list of things I've learned since graduating college in 2011. 

It should be easy to be young, but it really never felt like that. I'm an anxious person and it's always been my greatest downfall. I spent so much time worrying through college and even after I graduated. I felt like I always had to follow the rules; I had do so specific things to succeed. But the truth is: life is way more complicated than that. Sometimes you follow all the rules and things just aren't going to go your way. My experience after graduation is shockingly typical, but I've learned a lot and I'm still learning every day. 

1. Nothing will go how you think it will... even if you get a job. A lot of people I knew who got jobs ended up quitting shortly afterward. That plan you've had for after graduation forever? Prepare for it to change. My plan was to get a job; go to grad school; or move to New York or Chicago to become a magazine editor, whichever was more reasonable at the time. Obviously, none of those things happened. After I graduated, I worked at a deli, a car dealership, and finally, a residential care facility before finally being hired as a copywriter. That was over 3 years after a graduated too. 

2. Not being able to find a job effects your self-esteem in ways you never thought possible. I had on my imaginary armor after I graduated; I really did think I was different. "I'm so talented," I told myself. "Clearly, I will get a job! I'm special!" I am not special. Getting a job these days really is legitimately about luck. Are you the most qualified person who applied? Most likely, no. There are tons of people applying for jobs now. And that kind of sucks. Getting a job doesn't necessarily mean you're the best candidate anymore, because there are literally 200-300 applications turned in for every single job opening. And there are tons of college students, just like you, who are super talented, hardworking, and awesome. And among you are older people with 20-30 years of experience who deserve a job just as much. It must really suck to be in HR is what I'm saying. These are all facts, but it doesn't stop it from being soul crushing to send out your resume 10+ times a day, go to two interviews, tops, and hear back from zero

3. You will feel crushed after being rejected, but it's better to get back on the horse (even if that horse sucks). You know those days when your best friend is mad at you, your boyfriend breaks up with you, you fail a test, your favorite dress rips, you break your phone AND your camera, and your car breaks down!? Imagine having one of those days every day when no one will hire you. It sucks. All you'll want to do is lie in bed and watch movies forever. The last thing you'll want to do is make follow up application calls or write more cover letters. It's soul sucking, but ultimately necessary for your survival. I had a professor tell me once that every time she received a rejection letter, she immediately sent the poem or resume or whatever to a new option. That same day. This is the best advice I ever received, even if it meant that sometimes I cried for 12 hours after receiving rejection emails a record-breaking 15 minutes after an interview.

4. All that free time can add up to something. When you're unemployed (funemployed?) you might end up renting a lot of movies, buying a lot of stuff online, and perfecting your party dance alone in your bedroom. (I know I did.) But you know what you should be doing? Building a portfolio. You might as well work when every day is your weekend, right? When you do get a job, you'll wonder why you didn't blog more, or learn karate, or take up painting, or read all those books on graphic design. So spend time perfecting your social media presence, starting a blog, building networking opportunities, or learning a new skill. 

5. No one stops liking you when you work a terrible job. Remember those five months I worked at a deli? Remember how it made me feel humiliated and stupid every day? If you get a weird part-time job to make a bit of extra money (and fill some of that time), you might feel like some kind of weird, out-of-place alien, but I promise, no one who loves you is judging you. Unless they are a real jerk, in which case, why would you care?

6. Paying bills is hard. This is still the number one fact about my life: paying bills is hard. Establishing a saving account is hard. The minute I started assessing all the things I am required to pay, I realized that I vastly underestimated how much I cost as a human being. Add in a house, a husband, and a baby, and things are even more expensive now. This doesn't even take into account fun, unnecessary things, like internet or a cell phone.

7. When it comes down to it, the trivial things don't matter. When my grandfather passed away, I realized how much time I had spent waffling away the time: watching Hulu mindlessly, lying on my bed staring at the ceiling. We only have so much time, so don't spend it making yourself miserable over the little things. The things that matter most in life aren't related to the economy. I'm not saying getting a job isn't important (it totally is), but spending time with your family and friends, doing something you love, is way more important than worrying about if you'll be able to afford a cell phone when your parents finally cut you off. Some people have to work to survive and that's a horrible, awful reality. If you have people who can support you when things get rough, you're in the minority--so suck it up, buttercup.  

8. You'll want a job so bad, and when you get one, you'll want all that free time back. I'm... not kidding. I wake up at 5am every day, start driving at 6:20am, and get home around 4pm, just in time to make dinner, feed myself and a baby, and then put said baby to bed. This does not a social life make. Go see your friends--I wish I had.

9. You will get a job... eventually. Sometimes, it seems really hopeless. You'll read these articles about how people under 25 have something like a 55% unemployment rate, and then over 50% of those employed are underemployed and barely making minimum wage. You'll start to wonder if it's hopeless. Maybe you should have gotten a degree in something else? Maybe you should, I don't know, apply for jobs in something else? But I promise you will get a job eventually. A real one. Okay, you might be a receptionist, or a data entry clerk. But it's better than slicing deli meat or making burgers, right? The truth is, there will be a moment where everything clicks and falls into place and the world will seem to make a spot just for you. That happened to me two years ago: one day, I got, like, 5 job offers in one day. How crazy is that? 

10. It's not you. It really is the economy. For a long time, I started to wonder if something was seriously wrong with me. Maybe I was flawed in some way and had never known it. All those people telling me I was talented or would make a good editor, or writer, or social media marketing assistant... maybe they were lying or just trying to be nice. All the interviews where the HR manager praised my achievements and told me I had tons of skills they liked to see at the company -- they were lying, clearly, because they didn't hire me.

I gave up more than once. I resigned myself to working minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life -- on my feet until 11pm at night -- never being able to afford a brand new car, or a house, or even a child. More than anything that made me super depressed and not very fun to be around. It took a lot of time, but eventually, I realized it wasn't me. I still have moments where my confidence hits the floor and a lot of it has to do with, well, what I went through. It's exhausting to know you're good and to be rejected over and over (and over and over) again; it's a hard feeling to shake. But you'll get through it. I promise. I'm in such a better place now: I got through all of that, and guess what? I can afford a house, and a new car, and a baby, and a husband who does his best to help. It's not easy, but I got there. Five years later, I got there. 

Living the Dream: On Finding a Career (& Life) Path

I wrote this post over 2 years ago on my old blog, Ellipsis. Can you believe it? At the time, I was exhilarated by a recent slew of job offers after months of nothing and not having a job. I thought I'd take a second look--and a second rewrite--to see what else I have to say now. 

A few years ago, I wrote a particularly sad sentence in my journal: 

I'm about 85% sure that I will never be able to say that my career is my "dream job." I'm starting to think that phrase was made up by someone who wanted other people to feel bad. 

Wow, past-Michelle. WOW. That's harsh. About yourself and about your life.

Not very long after I wrote that sentence, I attended my first Toastmasters class. Toastmasters is a group that helps people improve their public speaking skills, as well as their confidence, posture, and mannerisms. If you're an introvert like me, that sounds terrifying. However, I found it to be incredibly fun. I thought I would hate it, but I loved it. I've never been a good public speaker, but following just the basic tips offered in the first class, I actually won Best Table Topics for the week!

I could never have imagined myself doing that. I couldn't have imagined myself being able to enjoy something that was so obviously not in my comfort zone. But then again, I also couldn't imagine myself being genuinely happy at work, or where I worked.

I've spent an embarrassingly long amount of time wishing I had my "Dream Job."

What was my "dream job"?

I don't even really know. 

Now that is embarrassing. I'm kind of ashamed that I spent years being sad, depressed, and generally stupid for a job that I couldn't even put any qualifiers on. I had a general sense of what I wanted to do, but then again, not really. I have a lot of skills; I have a lot of talents; and I have a lot of drive. None of things add up to I'm going to be an... fill in the blank. They add up to I like to write; I like social media; I like people; I like marketing; I like blogging...

So how do you get a cohesive job out of that?

You find businesses that want creative, interesting people & you wait.

You might start to wonder: does this Dream Job even exist?

I've always had high expectations: for myself; for other people; for my education; for my career. It's been an obstacle for me to overcome the idea that sometimes, my expectations are just too high.

For someone right out of college, I actually did all the right things: I took a deli job; I worked internships; and eventually, I started a low-level job at a place with opportunities to grow. However, I made things difficult for myself by hating every step of the journey. I kept feeling like I should be doing more, that what I was doing wasn't right, that I was holding myself back by being afraid to follow my dreams.

Really, I was following my dreams, but with my expectations so high, it was impossible for me to see the positive in any situation I was in, personally and professionally. Nothing I did was good enough & that thinking was incredibly negative for me.

I kept telling myself things would get better, but as time went by, I became less & less positive; I stopped trying; I let myself think that this was how my life was going to be; I couldn't see how anything would change. I let myself stop blogging. I let myself gain too much weight while trying to say I was very, very healthy. I let myself hate my body & take out my feelings of failure on my body. It was a bad time. It was a bad time to be me.

But this isn't a pity party. 

This is about telling it like it is.

Even after everything I went through -- two crappy jobs that I hated, two years of 24/7 body hatred, crying almost everyday, going months without writing or caring about anything -- I still don't have a "Dream Job." Because, to be completely honest, there is no "Dream Job."

Everything is what you make of it.

A Dream Job is just another version of the American Dream.

The American Dream is this: white picket fence, perfect house, wife & husband and 2.5 kids, car in the driveway, golden retriever in the backyard. Perfect, right? Yes, in the 1950s. Not everyone wants that life now, though. Some people don't want kids or they don't want to buy a home or they don't want to get married. Whatever, society has moved on.

We've evolved. 

Which means our notions of employment should too.

Twenty, thirty, forty years ago, when you accepted a job, you were essentially signing on for life. People worked at places for 40, 50 years. That is incredibly rare now. The idea of working anywhere for ten years kinda makes me start to feel itchy. It's just too confining. That's what a job used to be though: you signed on for the long haul.

Society, however, has evolved. So when we talked about "Dream Jobs," we're talking about a concept similar to "the American Dream." And we've evolved past that. It's time for our expectations to evolve too.

It's less a dream & more a path.

Have you ever heard the quote "Aim for the moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars"?

I hate that quote.

Ok, I don't hate it, but I think it's pretty lame. It assumes that you should aim as high as possible & that there is no possibility of failure from doing that.

Unfortunately, that's not true. Failure happens. People fail every single day. It's a fact of life.

We've all become afraid to fail. So afraid that we set our expectations spectacularly high and then fall apart if we don't measure up.

It's ok to fail though. Everyone fails. We have to. If you don't fail occasionally, you'll never learn what works or what you want to do. Working a job you hate tells you what you don't want to do. Working a job you love, but with a manager who treats you like crap teaches you about managerial styles.

From failure, we learn how to succeed: what we want, how to achieve it, how to lead. And if you protect yourself from never ever failing, you're doing yourself an incredible disservice. By spending your time hoping for a "dream job" or trying to find your "dream job", your letting opportunities to learn pass you by.

I wasted a lot of time being miserable, waiting for my "dream job" to come along. I wish I could take back all those times, all those opportunities. I missed out on enjoying life, enjoying working for two years because I was so wrapped up in the idea of doing something specific-that-I-didn't-really-know-yet.

I missed out on following my unique, special path.

So this is my advice.

Whenever June rolls around now, I think about the path my life has followed since I graduated five years ago. Can you believe that? Five whole years! I've learned so much since then and I hope my experience can help other people. 

My advice is simple:

  • Don't worry about it & don't be afraid to fail. It's ok to make mistakes. It's ok to feel like you don't know what you're doing or where you're going. That's the point. In your moments of confusion, you'll be able to figure out what you really want & follow the path that is most you.
  • Work hard. Every second of every day. Make it count!
  • Take every opportunity you encounter.
  • Have fun.
  • It's not about a dream; it's about you. The path you follow is yours. Your understanding of success is entirely yours. Don't ever let what anyone thinks stop you from following a path that is right for you.

3 Things I'd Tell My Past Self

I recently published a post on LinkedIn about entering the marketing world--and all the things I've learned since then. The more I think about where my life is right now (from my professional career to motherhood), I find myself in awe of how far I've come and how different my life is from what I planned. 

When I graduated from college in 2011, I never expected to go into marketing. I wanted to be a writer and that was my focus. But, looking back, I had no idea, really, what I wanted to write; I just wanted some general job where I was a writer. Obviously, that's not a great strategy when it comes to the job market and it's probably what contributed to my difficulty getting a job post-grad. I couldn't define my skill set if I couldn't define my ideal job--so I flailed, applied to anything and everything and waited and waited and waited. 

As a result, I worked a lot of crappy jobs. A lot. They were far from glamorous and ultimately served as lessons for me on how I wanted my future career to go--so I guess it isn't all bad! 

On LinkedIn, my friend Sarah mentioned that she wished she'd taken a marketing class in college--at least one! That got me thinking, if I could go back in time and tell my past self anything to help my transition to my current life easier, what would I say? Here's what I came up with. 

1. "Take more diverse classes." 

"But future self," my past self would say, rolling my eyes (undoubtedly), "I already takes LOTS of diverse classes! Sociology, history, journalism, art! You name it!" 

I would roll my eyes in return and say, "Not course catalog, liberal arts-subject diversity--I mean, actually diverse." 

I took a ton of diverse classes my senior year, it's true. But they were diverse in the sense that they got my enough credits outside of the English department. I wish, as my friend Sarah said, that I'd taken a marketing class and potentially a business class as well. I feel like having a more well-rounded, realistic idea of working and business management, as well as marketing, would have made a huge difference for me as a new graduate. 

2. "Relax & have more fun."

Anxiety is a way of life for me; it's just how I happen to live! That's not necessarily the greatest thing in the world, but hey, it is what it is! Looking back, especially to high school me and college me, I wish I'd just had more fun. My anxiety makes me incredibly driven and self-motivated (because I don't want to fail), but it also meant that I sometimes didn't enjoy life the way I should. I spent more time being high strung and anxious than I actually spent living my life in some ways. I wouldn't necessarily change the trajectory of my life (for example, I'm glad Danny loves and accepts the high strung, anxious me), but I wish I'd let myself relax a little bit more. 

Just a little bit though. I'm still super proud of my magna cum laude distinction on my degree! 

3. "Travel more."

I don't say this very often (because I hate traveling), but: I wish I'd traveled more when I was younger. Who knows? Maybe I'd enjoy it more now. I wish I'd seen more of the world before I buckled down for college and for work. I wish I'd seen the places I wanted to (London, Germany, Disney World) before facing the prospect of taking a child! 

As the old cliche goes, hindsight is 20/20. I wish I could tell my past self lots of things (like "Don't take that job, even though it seems like a great idea" or "don't let Danny drive to work today--he'll total the car"). Fortunately, I can't--and I really think that's for the best. If I didn't make all the mistakes I've made, or perhaps the decisions that I've made, who knows where I would be now? 

When It Comes to Strengths, I'm Most Interested in My Weaknesses

I recently took a strengths test. It was recommended to me by my boss -- and, in fact, all of my marketing coworkers took the test as well. We had a meeting to discuss our strengths, and weaknesses, and what they mean for the department. 

Here's how the test worked: when taking the test, I was asked to rank statements on a Likert Scale (0-9, disagree to agree). The statements included phrases like "I enjoy meeting new people," "I enjoy starting ice breaker conversations," and "I like to find solutions for problems." At the end of the test, it ranks 34 characteristics on a scale with a score (out of 100). 

My top ten (including my score) were: 

  • Structurer (100) 
  • Information Excavator (100) 
  • Thinker (100) 
  • Fixer (98) 
  • Solutions Finder (96) 
  • Historian (93) 
  • Believing (91) 
  • Student (91) 
  • Prudent (89) 
  • Visionary (89) 

Some of these were really surprising to me. I was not surprised that Structurer was one of my top strengths -- I follow patterns and regiment my life to an almost insane degree. I desire structure and routine. I like doing the same things everyday, eating the same things, watching the same TV shows. I like repetition. Information Excavator and Thinker didn't surprise me either; both traits recall a curiosity and a love of research, which is something I definitely love and find myself very good at. 

I was surprised by Fixer and Solutions Finder in my top 5. I do not often think of myself as someone with very good problem solving skills, but I do spend a lot of time researching how to fix my problems, fix problems I experience in my work, or improve anything I'm working on. In some ways, it make sense. 

However, when it came down to it, the traits I ended up paying the most attention to are those I scored the least in. My lowest scoring trains were Charismatic (40), Flexibility (40), Motivator (38), Confidence (38), and Foreman/Commanding (36). Basically, I don't like meeting new people, I am not flexible, I am not upbeat, I lack confidence in my talent and abilities, and I cannot lead people. 

Wow, that says a lot doesn't it! 

All of those traits are important for some jobs and in general, are skills that are good to have. There are things I know are not my strengths. But looking at these traits, I realize something: I may be a good problem solver and researcher, but my lack of confidence, and inflexibility, make it difficult for me to implement and lead people towards my ideas. 

That's kind of a bummer, of course, when I really think about it: I have many positive traits, but if confidence ranks as one of my greatest weaknesses, it seems to invalidate my abilities otherwise. 

It's possible to learn a lot about yourself by identifying your strengths. You can determine what kind of leader you are and how to properly focus your energy. However, I learned the most by evaluating my weaknesses and deciding how to make them strengths instead. 

With a test like this, it's very easy to get bogged down by what it says about you: oh, I'm not very confident. Aren't I the worst? It's difficult to fight that impulse, to let the test tell you that that is inherently how you are. However, strengths and weaknesses are flexible and they have the ability to change. You shouldn't feel constricted by learning your weaknesses -- you should feel empowered to change. 

If you'd like to take this test, you can here.