This post is the first in the “Shifting Perspectives” series, where the smartest women we know share helpful life advice and real talk.
We all want to tell the stories of the big jobs we landed. Of course you want to celebrate your wins and make people think you are a total badass rockstar. We can dine on a good story over cocktails for years! But what about the interviews we screwed up, the ones where we sent weird, over-sharing follow up notes, the times that we tried too hard or didn’t try hard enough, or the jobs we wanted so bad we could taste the celebratory cupcakes, but we just weren’t ready?
The story of how I got to be editor-in-chief of Seventeen is a good one—I love to tell about how I walked into the meeting with the Big Boss with a killer pitch, amazing shoes, and solid confidence that I was going to crush it. And I did … eventually. But I’ve never told the story of how I was turned down for an entry level assistant position at Seventeen. Frankly, I forgot all about it until I pulled out an old folder that contained a stack of rejection letters from my very first job search. I’ve held on to those letters all these years as a badge of honor and testament to my hustle. Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, People and Time…I sent my resume and cover letter to them all, made research notes, scheduled interviews and informational chats and wrote lovely follow up notes…and they all sent me letters that began with “Unfortunately…”. And every single one stung and made me feel like I was an idiot to think I could achieve my 16–year old dream of being A Big Time Journalist.
MY BIG STACK OF POST-COLLEGE REJECTION LETTERS
Back then, fresh from NYU with an English degree in one hand and a paper Filofax in the other, I didn’t have much to offer in a new job other than my ability to show up on time, learn fast, and make sure the basic administrative tasks got done quickly and thoroughly. And honestly, when you’re applying for your early gigs, neither do you. It’s not personal. It’s the truth. Which is why you shouldn’t agonize over getting The Dream Job right off the bat. Get a job, any job. You will learn the rules of how an office works, make contacts and get the basics of the industry. Your dream will still be there, getting stronger and more vivid the more you learn about the world.
After all those rejection letters, I finally landed a gig as an assistant at The American Lawyer Magazine. I answered phones, filed memos, fact-checked and listened to the reporters in the “pit” do their job. Was it my Dream Job? No. But it was A Job. That paid. Did I know that this nuts-and-bolts gig would someday lead me to running a legendary fashion and beauty brand or to writing a book about the power of millennial women? One hundred percent no! There’s no way that back then I could have imagined the twists and turns that my career has taken. But I learned how to report a story, how to double check my facts and how to think about media beyond the page. I was plugged into a network of smart, strong colleagues—many of whom I am still connected with. And when it was time for me to move on from that gig, I realized that I had something more to offer at my next job. And after that next job, I had something more to offer at the next.
MY FIRST SEVENTEEN MAGAZINE COVER
Those rejection letters are there as a reminder of the wide-eyed newbie I used to be. I’m not that girl anymore in a lot of ways, but the hustle is still there. And so is my dream—closer, richer, and bigger than I could have imagined.
And so rather than see the jobs you’re not getting as personal failures, see them as a twist in your path, an opportunity to experience something new you didn’t plan for. Even if you’re not high-fiving from fancy job to fancy job, give yourself credit for being brave enough to aim for something big.
Ann Shoket is the author of The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be, available now for preorder and in stores everywhere March 14, 2017, and former editor-in-chief of Seventeen.
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