Dealing with professional rejection can be a challenging, but required part of life for many people for many different reasons and even though I spent ten years as a CEO of a hospitality empire, I am no stranger to rejection.

As a Gemini, I always divided my life into two parts. The first part of my life would be the responsible, career-oriented, get married, have a kid – practical part (check)! The second part would be for exploring my creative side. I left my career earlier than I thought as I ran myself into the ground and burned out (but more on that in other posts), so find myself at a crossroads. I could start a new career path and drive it just as hard as I had my first, or move into the “planned” second phase of my life a little early. I felt it was time to embrace this plan (or so I thought). I didn’t know the roller coaster it would be though, and ultimately I learned a great lesson about how to make the most of rejection.

“You either succeed or you learn.”

Lining Up for Rejection

I don’t think anyone expects to be rejected, but realistically, it’s usually a 50/50 chance.

I used to write poetry in high school and wanted to return to that passion and my love of playing with words.  So, I applied for a Master’s of Fine Arts in Poetry at NYU. It is a low residency program with ten days each semester spent in Paris, France.

Travel, creative writing, and a terminal degree all in one place? It checked off all my boxes!

I’m also very achievement-oriented and love the idea of having a Master’s degree. Again, another box checked. I would be able to do it at my own pace from home, but travel to France several times per year. (Score!)

After I applied, I decided to  use the power of positive thinking and law of attraction by repeating things like, “When I get in,” and “When I’m in Paris.” It was a fun thought experiment, and I enjoyed the positive feelings that came with this process. Nearly everything I’ve wanted up until now I’ve been able to either get or achieve.

I’m a doer, and I get shit done.

I wasn’t expecting to be rejected. But, I was. It was certainly an initial jolt of disappointment. And it was a bust to my ego, my vision of my future, and on a very small level, my plans for my summer.

Dealing with professional rejection can be challenging but not impossible.

Grieve, but Stay Open to the Lessons of Rejection

Sure, I was bummed. I had spent months visualizing myself living my best life in Paris. I processed the rejection as best as I could, using many of the tools I’ve learned to keep me from fully diving into a dark place about it.

But I’m also an instinctively positive (while staying realistic at the same time) person. I know this may not come easily to some. But even in moments like this, I could get sucked into feelings of negativity, judgment, criticism. I found myself practicing some of the techniques I’ve been learning in meditation and through yoga. I would take the negative thought and replace it with ten positive ones, for example. I’d visualize myself finding a different path, as another example.

Simply put, I could dwell on this setback or accept it and move onto the next adventure on the checklist. I can always re-apply, as many times as I would like and will get in (or not) when the time is right (if ever).

In the past, a negative thought train could send me reeling for weeks. But lately, I’ve been far more open to receiving more positive messages. And in this instance, it paid off.

The Lessons of Rejection Can Present Opportunity

At the time that I received the rejection notice, we just so happened to be on vacation and were staying at The Phoenix Hotel in Ambergris Caye, Belize. As we were checking out they offered a 20% discount for customers who booked a return trip at check out.

It felt like such a moment of clarity. Here I was, fresh off the rejection boat, learning that I wouldn’t be immersing myself into the culture and language of one country, being offered a discounted experience in a wholly different country. My month of July had been marked off for Paris, so I just replaced that calendar item with Mexico and Belize.

I had spent the past several months manifesting traveling. It turns out that I was manifesting the wrong destination.

Because I had been open to both outcomes (acceptance and marking off my calendar and using positive language, and rejection in being able to change my plans quickly and without a feeling of settling or disappointment), I could see this offer for what it was: a chance for real growth and to continue on my path of education and change. If I had been closed off and steadfast in going to school (and only going to school), I may have missed it.

The stars had aligned back home as well. During July, my son would be at sleepaway camp. My in-laws would be in town and could easily look after our dogs and keep tabs on our house.

So my husband and I decided to embrace it all and take a couple’s trip! We planned to travel to Cancun for six days, Isla Mujeres for five days, and end up back in the paradise of Ambergris Caye, Belize for another six. Shockingly we realized this would be our first couples trip in three years.

Traveling helped me cope with this particular rejection

Adjust Your Expectations

While being creative is always a pull for me, and formal education is something I value deeply, neither was what I ultimately needed at that moment. Choosing, instead, to be in a new place, learn about new cultures, food, languages, etc.

I needed to adjust my expectations around what was truly needed for me to grow and learn.

I am fluent in Spanish, and I love speaking with the locals. I can also quickly pick up local accents or inflection. I realized that I needed a kind of immersion into another culture and country. This is the kind of educational adventure that feeds my soul!

Plus, let’s be honest, getting to spend some quality time with my husband in a tropical paradise? Something which is vitally important to me and our relationship and one of the reasons why we’re still in love with each other and can spend every waking moment over the course of two weeks together after 14 years of marriage. That’s a bonus I wouldn’t have had in any graduate program.

Making Lemonade in Paradise

I’m writing this post as we’re back in Belize. In the months leading up to our trip, I’ve continued to grow and learn and evolve in my health and wellness journey. This trip is going to be very different though for many reasons.

Traveling gives me an enormous amount of content from which to grow: pictures, stories, lessons, time to think, time to not think!

My fluency in Spanish has been equal parts exciting and hilarious. In fact, for the past two weeks, everyone keeps asking me if I’m Mexican because of my accent. They can’t quite figure me out. It’s been a significant boost to the ego and a reminder that I am accomplished, intelligent, and talented.

Back in Belize processing this particular rejection

Embrace a Different Path Instead of Dwelling on What Could Have Been

This trip has also been so different from nearly every other vacation we’ve had in the past. I’m working out while on vacation! (I’ve never done that before.) I’m eating way better than I have, and I’m practicing a lot of the tools I’ve learned, incorporating them into a traveling lifestyle.

One of my future goals is to live an independent work-from-wherever lifestyle, where traveling is part of the regular day to day life (and not necessarily a vacation). Having this opportunity to practice these routines has been invaluable.

There has been an abundance of self-care, sunshine, and exploration. I’ve also been keeping my brain active by practicing my Spanish, playing my brain games daily and writing these blogs! And I’ve enjoyed lots of quiet moments to gather my thoughts and plan the next step. All of this, plus some really great bonding with my husband.

Rejection means spending more time with my husband

Moving On and Enjoying the Journey

Rejection can feel crappy. But it is an opportunity for self-reflection, growth, and evolution. And I’m grateful that I didn’t get into that poetry program at this time, or allow myself to get sucked into a frame of mind that wouldn’t let me experience this trip.

Thankfully, I’ve been sent on a path to embrace a different kind of education and transformation as a result.

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Facing rejection of any kind can feel heartbreaking and frustrating. But when we encounter professional rejection, it's hard to know what to do next, especially if you were visualizing a specific future. Here's how to make the most of the heartbreak of a professional rejection such as that from a school, job, or business arrangement.