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Albertus Angga Raharja
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On Handling Rejection

9 min read

My Personal Reflection about Rejection
return new Promise.reject(`
It's not the end of the world.
It doesn't mean you are not good enough
`);

Let's be frank. Rejection sucks. Everyone hates rejection. And, it's also completely normal to be sad about rejection.

I'm 22 right now and I can clearly say that I've received much more rejection that I couldn't even count the amount of rejections that I've received compared to acceptance/success/milestones in my life.

In this post, I would like to share how my journey on handling rejections over the course of the last four years of my university life.

📔 Personal Reflection and Rejections Behind Every Milestone of My Life

Looking back on my academic and career journey so far, I think there is no single milestone I've achieved that comes easily without a single rejection. Let me mention every single event that I've achieved through the last 4 years:

The following section contains what I consider my life achievement through the last 4 years with the failures behind it. Feel free to skip to the next section since I'm going over some details here.

  1. Getting my admission from the Faculty of Computer Science of University of Indonesia
    • Prior to getting the admission, I was rejected by the same faculty through different admission process (SNMPTN / direct admission without exam). When I was a final-year high school student, In Indonesia, there are three admission process for getting into public university: (1) SNMPTN (direct admission without exam); (2) SBMPTN (national public university exam held by the gov. / country); and (3) independent exam held by each university. I took the second option and the third option after failing the first process. Failed my second option and I got my admission through the third option. Not my most proud achievement since my parents have to pay more fee because I failed the first two. But hey, I was so glad I still got into my dream university!
  2. My internship at Traveloka
    • I interned at Traveloka during my second year at uni. They rejected me two times out of my two applications. During my first year at uni, I applied to the same openings, somehow managed to proceed until the final interview (which was cool since I got to visit their office), and of course, I failed the interview and got rejected 😅 😂
    • I spent the summer that year interning at a new and smaller startup, STOQO, which compounded my personal growth as an aspiring software engineer 🚀
    • The year after that, I sent the same application, managed to proceed until the final interview, and still got a rejection after that! (This time my interview went well but they couldn't find any team or internship projects for me)
    • Plot twist, I got the offer 2 weeks after my rejection 😅 I almost gave up and decided to go back to my hometown during the summer doing nothing at that time after receiving so many rejections (more on that below).
  3. My internship at Google
    • I interned at Google during Fall of 2019 (Sept - Dec) in Seattle, United States. This was my second time going abroad (the first time was in the beginning of the year for a study camp in Korea), and my very first time living abroad. I grew up in a family that couldn't afford to have a vacation abroad. Still feels magical up until now.
    • Prior to that internship, I applied to Google exactly 15 times. I got an interview two times.
    • My first interview was with Google Tokyo office during my second year for Summer '18 internship. Failed the interview process in the 2nd technical interview.
    • My second interview was with Google Singapore office during my third year for Summer '19 internship. Failed the interview process in the 1st technical interview.
    • Google was literally my dream company and the fact that I failed in the earlier process the next year hits me hard and affected my self-esteem for a quite while.
  4. My internship offer from Facebook
    • I got a software engineering internship offer from Facebook in their London office for a Summer '20 internship. It was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic. Too bad, but life must goes on.
    • The same also applies with this one. I applied two-three times and even asked a referral from a friend whom I respect a lot but doesn't really know me well. I didn't even get the interview for my first application.
    • The year after that, I tried again with a referral from another friend.
    • This time, I interviewed with Facebook around the same time with Google for my Fall internship. Since I was already too accustomed with rejection, I didn't really have any expectation or hope to get the offer at that time. I was already happy and satisfied with the fact that I could get another interview from Google and an interview from Facebook. More on that story later (on a different post), I promise!
  5. My new grad offer from Stripe
    • I got a New Grad Software Engineer offer from Stripe for a position at their Singapore office and will be joining them soon enough. Stripe was also my dream company, a company that I personally think too cool for me.
    • The year before I got my offer, I applied for a Fall '20 internship. Managed to proceed until the technical round interview (1 round before final round), but I failed the interview and got rejected.

Before my admissions, I actually had failed a lot and got a lot of rejection as well. My dream was shattered exactly twice during high school. It broke my confidence and self-esteem for awhile. It took me a long time to finally pick up myself and be kinder to myself. Outside of the rejections I mentioned above, I also received tons of rejections as well (academic, career, love, social, etc.).

I'm grateful for all of single milestones that I've mentioned above, including all the rejections I got. It teaches me to always stay humble. Without all those rejections, I think I would not reach this far as well.

How My Past-Self Handled Rejection

Every single rejection feels like a direct stab to my self-esteem. I always thought that I was never good enough for anything. I felt small. I felt hopeless. I felt despair. I even felt like giving up on life. I used to feel that I'm a failure and not a good-enough person after a rejection. And it's really hard to pick up myself and move forward. I used to blame my situation and background for everything as well.

How I See Rejection Right Now

Rather than seeing it as a direct stab or attack to my self-esteem that makes me feel that I'm not good enough, I prefer to think that a rejection means that I'm still not yet a good fit for the opportunity/anything related to the rejection. Sometimes, and often, the reason behind our rejection is not caused by our weakness or shortcomings. Often, the reason comes from external factors that we can't control or foresee at all.

Rather than blaming ourselves for the failure and rejection, blaming ourself for not being good enough, or regretting anything related to the rejection, I prefer to see it as a life lesson that helps me build my resilience. It's completely normal to be sad about a rejection, I myself still get sad when I get rejection, but I try not to let them affect my self-esteem anymore. I try not to define a failure or a single rejection to define me, my journey, and my life.

Growth Mindset

I came from a background that are not privileged enough to prioritize education in life. My dad is a farm owner and didn't attend university, while my mom is a full-time housewife who didn't even graduate middle school. Early in my school life, I used to think that being smart is something that have to be born with. Obviously, I'm not the brightest in my class (until now, actually), and I struggle a lot with my studies. During high school, I tried to study really hard to compete in Competitive Programming and struggled a lot because I always doubt my ability and see myself as an incompetent and not-so-smart person.

In the end of the day, you only need a single success despite of tons of rejections that you receive. That single success either can make you really happy (if you truly appreciate and be grateful for it), and build your momentum forward.

I do think that luck takes a lot of part in every success. But you know what? You can get better at being lucky! Yes, even though it still depends on probability and external factor, but you can rise your chances and you can become better at it. How? Check out this awesome writing by my friend here about Getting Good at Being Lucky.

TL;DR: Take more chances! Take that first step and just do it (not sponsored by Nike btw, hehe). How to take more chances? Get over a rejection, get accustomed to failure and rejection. Tell yourself that you don't know what's going to happen next, because nobody really knows!

If you asked me exactly 1.5 years ago that whether or not I will work at Google/Facebook/Stripe/or even abroad in an unknown startup, I would not even dare to think of it. Nobody, no one, and not even myself, foresaw me getting offers abroad would be a thing. Personally, it actually still feels magical to me!

Don't Listen to People's Negativity

A long time ago, somebody who I respected a lot and whom I consider to be quite successful in the same career told me that "someone like me would not go far in this career". I tried not to take it personally at the time and tried to ignore it and my inner thought as a result of the quote. That was before my Google internship interview.

If someone is telling you that you won't succeed, whoever they are, even the ones that you consider to be a quite successful person, don't listen to them! Screw their negativity. Everyone does not even know what will happen in their life 1 minute from now, so why should you believe what they said negatively about you?

Actions that Helped Me Grow After Rejections

Before closing this post, I'd like to summarize by sharing some practical actions that helped me overcome my failures after countless rejections:

  • Getting accustomed to rejection and not taking it personally.

    • As I've said before, often the reasoning behind our rejection is not caused by our shortcomings and it could be some external factors that we don't have control on. Get accustomed to rejections, don't take it too personally, try to learn from it, and have a thank you, next mindset.
  • Make a reflection notes / log.

    • This is actually related to my countless software engineering internship applications. For every applications and interview that I did, I tried to make a log and personal note on how did my application and interview go and what I think could have gone better and what could have been prepared better.
  • Prepare better.

    • In my case, often, the rejection comes because I didn't prepare enough and gave my best on the preparation. For example, my internship rejection from Stripe was caused because I didn't prepare enough and didn't do any mock interviews beforehand since I was too busy with my internship at Google at the time. The next year, I learned from this and prepared for a whole week before my remote onsite interview for the full-time position.
  • Don't stop trying.

    • Don't let your fear of rejection or failures make you stop from trying in the first place. I saw all of my internship application as an opportunity to grow, learn, and practice my interviewing skill and never regretted my decision to apply even though I got rejected in the end of the process.
  • Be kinder to yourself and stop measuring yourself against others.

    • This one actually hits me the most and took me the longest time and the hardest effort to actually try to do it. When Google rejected my internship application, the one that made it so hard for me to accept the rejection is the fact that I compared myself with the three of my friends who got accepted in the same position. I instantly felt so small and pathetic because of that.
    • When I realizes that life is a marathon, instead of a sprint and tried to just be happy with what I have, my life just feels so light and I find myself to be generally happier in anything that I do.

      Your career is not a single race track, and the people running beside you don’t even have the same finish line as you. - Joma

Closing

For you who are all reading this post and maybe is receiving a rejection right now, don't let a single rejection to define you and your life. Just like every single rejection has helped me to build my resilience and momentum going forward, I'm sure you can get through this one as well!

To close this post, I would like to share a quote by Epictetus that I found from my mentor's blogpost here.

Try, also, to be as kind to yourself as possible. Do not measure yourself against others or even against your ideal self. Human betterment is a gradual, two-steps-forward, one-step-back effort. Forgive others for their misdeeds over and over again. This gesture fosters inner ease. Forgive yourself over and over and over again. Then try to do better next time.

That's it for this post about my reflection on how my journey to accept rejection over the last four years. I wanted to write this before graduating soon from my university. I hope it can be some kind of useful to anyone who reads it.

Feel free to always reach me out and I'd like to hear from you about this writing!

Disclaimer:
All writings here are my own and do not represent any of my current and past employer.
© 2021 by Albertus Angga Raharja. All Rights Reserved.

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