My story, in any way it’s told, has never been about magical transformations.
I didn’t quit my job to get paid to travel the world, or quit my job and become a passive income guru overnight.
I quit my job and struggled with my mental health, struggled with making decisions, trusting myself, feeling worthy as a human…I quit my job and sort of floated in purgatory between doing and not doing until I could ever so slowly nudge the needle of my life path in a vague – and then a bit more certain – direction.
It took me months and months – is STILL taking me months – to figure out what to do and how to move on past the rejection and the stuckness.
Other freelancers and entrepreneurs always seem to have an “aha” moment when they decided to quit their 9-to-5 and go rogue. This isn’t that.
In June 2016, I left my full-time job as a public health researcher in Baltimore to go on a 3-week vacation in Europe with my boyfriend and to hopefully find a job afterward that would be a better fit for me in the long-term.
I wasn’t afraid of going through the job application process at the outset. I’ve done it countless times. In my ten years of work experience, I have been hired as a nanny/babysitter, public pool attendant, hostess, server, editorial intern, development intern, social marketing intern, receptionist, tutor, ESL teacher, researcher…
The list goes on. I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve done a lot of interviews, been through a lot of trainings, have worked in many different teams and work settings and even countries. I never expected to not be able to get another job when I quit mine in June.
So I applied to jobs.
I applied to jobs I had been referred to through friends or colleagues; I applied to jobs online; I applied to full-time public health jobs, and when that didn’t work, I applied to part-time administrative jobs, and when that didn’t work, I applied to summer positions. I applied to jobs that were advertised on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Indeed; I applied to jobs at organizations where I had personally met the founder.
Despite my efforts, I was rejected. Endlessly.
Thirty-four times to be exact.
Some 13 interviews and 4 months later, I finally, finally realized some things about myself.
Job Rejection Lesson 1: I’m effing terrible at interviews
I actually got through to the interview round on many of my applications. I was even sent through to a second round of interviews on few job apps. But I just couldn’t seal the deal from there.
Talking about myself in an impromptu manner is a challenge for me. It’s hard both because of the nature of impromptu talking (just not my skillset) and because as the job application process wore on, I began feeling more and more unsure about myself (see: the dozens of jobs I had already been rejected from).
I would try to prepare beforehand for the interviews but there was always something that would surprise me and trip me up.
This is okay – to be bad at interviews – but if I ever apply for jobs again, I should get some interview coaching because it is definitely my weakness and I imagine there are ways to psych yourself up when you’re trying to do interviews during a period of rejection.
Takeaway: If you’re being rejected a lot, pause to nail down your weakness and make it a strength.
2. I wasn’t getting the jobs because I didn’t want them
Deep down I wanted to work for myself, and that was the reason I went into public health in the first place. I wanted to be a public health consultant, like my mentor.
To do that, I knew I needed credibility and experience aka to work for someone else for a while.
And before grad school, I was willing to make that sacrifice and work for someone else. Then grad school happened and I became disillusioned by public health. Things shifted in my head. Sacrificing my desire to work for myself – putting it off until some indeterminate later date – wasn’t worth it anymore.
So no wonder I didn’t want any of the jobs I was applying for.
Takeaway: If you’re being rejected in vast numbers like I was, ask yourself if you really want those jobs right now. If you don’t a) it might be time to pursue your dream of working for yourself, or b) you need to find a way to coach yourself into certainty because not wanting the job is going to seep into your next interview.
3. It takes time to let go of things and that’s okay
So I had to let go of public health.
Realizing that I didn’t want the jobs I was applying to sucked. I felt like I had invested so much time, money, energy in becoming the public health consultant I initially dreamed of becoming.
Turns out it’s hard to let go when you’ve invested in something you once really wanted, even if you realize you don’t want it anymore.
The letting go process was slow for me…I still have moments of doubt (“maybe I should just try again, just one more time and see if I like it…”) but more often than that, I have moments of gratitude (“I’m SO happy I let public health go to pursue copywriting. It’s a much better fit for me.”)
I kept thinking oh I know I’m sort of not into this public health thing anymore after grad school but I should probably still give it a chance as an employee to make sure it’s actually a poor fit. Yeah, maybe. It wasn’t a bad plan rationally speaking. But my heart had something else “in mind” for me. (ha)
Takeaway: If you realize you’re heading in a direction you’re not excited about and you’re ready to try something different, letting go may still. feel. hard. It may still take time to let go of that particular path but know you can always try again later.
4. Just because something comes to you as a whisper doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen
Again, deep down I always wanted to work for myself.
This manifested in my mind as me working in public health in some capacity because I was afraid to do something that didn’t align with the American expectations of what a “career” is.
I definitely had had the thought hey maybe I could do the thing I read about online that other people do when they have their own business and work for themselves, and maybe I could do it in writing because I love writing and do it anyways…
But it was a whisper. So I didn’t listen.
I thought, if I really wanted to do that, if that were really the right direction for me, then I would feel more certain of it and then I would do it. Like I did with public health.
After being rejected from so many positions, my desperation for some sort of income led me to heed the whisper. I tried out a few freelance things while I was still applying for regular jobs. I had small wins on the freelancing side – client work I found interesting and really enjoyed.
Then eventually I stopped applying for regular jobs and devoted myself to freelancing.
There was never a big moment of certainty when I was like BOOM THIS IS THE ANSWER: I NEED TO BE A FREELANCE WRITER.
I just slowly kept trying, doing a project, talking to other freelancers.
And eventually I decided, quietly and without certitude…
I’ll do this now instead.
So glad you finally came to that realization! I think I am almost there too. That was definitely your reason but for others it can just be the luck of the draw. Sometimes they already hired someone, or have to do a favor to someone else by hiring a certain person.
Yeah completely, it’s different for everyone and I do agree there’s a lot of luck involved.
Are you applying for jobs right now or thinking about quitting and doing freelance or blogging?
Great revelations! I think some of my problem in the past clearly revolves around #2… I knew I NEEDED to work… but the jobs to which I was applying didn’t want me because I didn’t really want them. I only wanted the money. Fantastic article!
Hi Patrick, thank you! and YES wanting the money and not the job definitely undermines a person’s ability to “close the deal”. Definitely have been there too.
These are profound realizations! Thank you for sharing your story – it’s been encouraging to read.
I know exactly how you feel – I have struggled a lot with landing jobs in my field. Your reflections have really helped you and I am glad you found your career.
There is no doubt in my mind, you are traveling the right fork in the road.
Thank you Arwen, that means a lot. And I think so too. It feels authentic to me.
These are some great lessons, ones you will carry with you the rest of your life. It’s so hard to get rejected but there is always a reason.
Rejection is super but it shapes us into who we are. I love your story. I think some days the only way to go after what I truly want would be to quit my job… but then I freak out about that. Maybe someday soon I will be able to be my own boss 🙂
babe im assuming youve read the 4 hour work week by Tim Ferris, right? I actually never read it but i heard it was quite inpisiring for some people…Fantastic article. Congrats on getting rejected from 34 jobs. Wow good work. I’ll hire you to be my assistant. Payment comes in indian food and free yoga classes and meditations. All you need to do is get airfare and come. xoxoxoxo
YES I read 4HWW at the start of 2016 and it was incredibly inspiring. Definitely working towards that passive income.
<3 Thank you Annie. That payment sounds amazing and delicious. Do they have wifi there? 😉 I've been taking baby steps in meditation this year and find it so helpful for anxiety. Would love to learn more.
I believe that I’ve posted before, how much I enjoy reading your blog. Good luck on your new adventure. You are wonderful writer; you grab my attention (which is hard to do. I’m pretty sure I’m ADD. Hahahah) and I love the humor in your writing.
Keep writing, keep posting! You’re going to do great! Let me know if you ever make it out to AZ, I’d love to see you.
Kate you are too kind. Thank you so much. Roadtripping the States – and especially exploring out west – is on my bucket list!!
This is such a fantastic post. So much information in here not only about who you are, but about the whole process and what you can learn from it. I really dig this!
Hey Angie, thank you so much!
I really enjoyed your article. I am in a place of soul searching about what my next steps are and I think you helped me see that doing my own thing is what’s best for me. Do what you loved as a child. That is the best job advice I’ve ever heard. Pass it on.
Thank you for your kind words. I know the feeling of not knowing what to do next. Be kind and patient with yourself and yes if there’s a whisper telling you to do your own thing, try it out and see how it feels.
I love this! My quiet whisper has become more of a scream of late 😉
Hey Isobel, I hear you. Go listen to that scream!!