COLUMN: Millennials should fight the stigma surrounding rejection

Rejection has always been an uncomfortable word for me. Whenever I think of rejection, I think of crumpled papers, emails that start with “Thank you for your interest, but unfortunately we are unable…” and boys who say “I like you, but only as a friend.”

A semester ago, I came across an article from Literary Hub by writer Kim Liao titled “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year.” At that time, I was feeling defeated. I had such grand hopes for the beginning of my junior year, but nothing ever went the way I had planned the summer before. The article encourages readers to collect rejections as if they are something to aim for, rather than shy away from: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”

I didn’t know what to think of it. Quantity over quality? Putting yourself out there, socially and mentally, can be extremely draining and discouraging, especially if done continually. Whether it’s trying out for multiple campus organizations or interviewing for jobs and internships, it’s all the same routine. Our society encourages us to “always be yourself!” but it never tells us that we can only be ourselves to the extent that we are socially acceptable. Be social and approachable, but not so much that you are unable to be professional or get work done. Be proactive, but not too eager. There’s always too much overanalyzing involved in trying to be the best version of myself, and the more I thought about it, the more putting aside my fragile ego and insecurities to go for this new perspective sounded appealing.

And so, with the mindset that there is nothing to lose, I began to try. If I saw something I was remotely interested in, I decided to go for it instead of backing out. It wasn’t so much blindly inserting myself in random situations just to say I did it. It was more about deciding to be unafraid to try new things or experiences and grow discovering new things about myself from them. I tried for a lot of things that aligned with my career goals and interests, but the most random thing I did was when my friend and I decided to try out for an a capella group together. The closest thing I’ve ever done to singing in front of people is whispering at a low volume in the car to the radio or standing in the back of my high school choir. When she asked me after the audition what scale they asked me to sing after my song, I realized that they didn’t even ask me to sing a scale. I guess they only ask you to sing a scale if you’re actually good. We laughed about it and we both didn’t get in, but it was a funny experience and I had no hard feelings about it thanks to my new “collecting rejections” mindset.

I began to take everything with a grain of salt ended up raking in a lot of acceptances (as well as rejections of course) only because I went in without the terror of trying and failing. This mindset has been a saving grace for my constantly anxious mind.

Over a semester of collecting rejections later, this new mentality has become more than a social experiment for me. With social media as a way to broadcast our highlights and accomplishments, it has become harder and harder for millennials like myself to deal with comparison and self-doubt. It’s funny, when my friends from other schools see my social media and say that I’m doing so well at USC and am so involved in so many things, they have no idea that I probably submitted an application for 20 different jobs to get that one or had to try out twice for an organization to be able to get in. That’s probably what I should remind myself when I find that I’m envious of someone else who is seemingly doing very well. Embracing rejection with open arms has taught me to leave my ego at the door and not to be afraid to fail. In the words of Wayne Gretzsky and Michael Scott, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

The next time a rejection rolls around, I’m pretty sure I’ll be 100 percent fine. On to the next one.

Erika Lee is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the social media editor of the Daily Trojan.  “Trojan Talk” is a guest column that will typically run every other week.