You know the feeling—the first time in your professional career you worked really, really hard on something. You stayed late after work for two weeks, poured hours and hours of energy and heart into the project, and drove all your friends crazy because you wouldn’t talk about anything else.
Finally, deadline day rolled around. You printed off the proposal, took the inevitable my-firstborn-child-is-going-to-their-first-day-of-kindergarten photo, and wished you had a silver platter to turn it in on.
Of course, the initial relief was chased by a wave of uncertainty, but you convinced yourself they’d like it (and your roommate told you, “They certainly will, just please stop talking about it”) and you shoved your feelings and tried to forget it. It didn’t work, but at least you tried.
You spent two weeks giggling nervously every time anyone stopped by your desk with any project, and finally The Proposal returned. Your pride and joy, such a work of art it belonged in the Louvre. You checked to make sure no one was watching, and peeked past the first paper. And just like that, your eager anticipation immediately melted and instead you began to experience the first in the five stages of grief. Your project was back, all right. But it was decimated. Your ideas were old, the proposal would never work, this outcome didn’t match our five-year plan . . .
The very first time your ideas (and hard work) get rejected, you have two options:
Spoiler alert: They’re the same two options you’ll have every single time this happens for the rest of your life.
You just give up. Your work wasn’t good enough this time, so it won’t be good enough next time, or the next time. Better just give in, meet the status quo, and talk to your roommate about the weather and sports. Do just enough to get by, but no more. And certainly don’t exert any real effort. It’s not worth it, because nothing you do ever makes it past the idea stage.
You don’t stop caring. It’s the less popular option. It’s harder. But you can choose to turn what feels like bold-faced rejection into a conversation. What needs to change? How can I improve this? If your ideas still don’t fit the mold, try again. If that doesn’t work, propose a different idea. Work hard, keep your head in the game, always seek to contribute when and where you can. Don’t stop caring. Maybe not every idea will be successful—but your chances of hitting a home run are a lot higher if you swing the bat (shaky analogy assuming you have some ability to make contact with the ball, which I, personally, do not).
Because it’s the people who keep caring and keep trying, after failure and rejection, who make a difference in the long run.