Learning to accept rejection as redirection

A student explains how getting rejected from her dream job on Feb. 4, 2023, allowed her to grow as a journalist.


February 4, 2023

I’ve always been exceptionally competitive. In high school, I wanted the best grades to get into a great college; from there I could have amazing internships and land my dream job.

I knew where I wanted to work by the time I was 11. My mom and I were rushing to the bus station in New York City when I saw the building I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life in. 

It’s home to one of the top journalism organizations in the country, and I decided to make it my life’s mission to end up there at some point. 

In November 2022, I learned that the same organization has yearly fellowship programs for recent graduates to jumpstart their careers. Although the job description said it was looking for graduating seniors, I decided to take a chance and submit my application for an opinion editing fellowship as a junior. 

Despite clearly stating in my cover letter I was a year younger than required, I somehow made it into the top 20 applicants, surpassing thousands of others along the way. My next step was a two-hour edit test; I had never been so excited for a test in my life. 

It felt like everything was finally working out for me and that my hard effort paid off. I wanted this position more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. 

Unfortunately, my dreams were short-lived. On Feb. 4, 2023, I received a personal letter from the editor; he said the team liked my ideas, but they decided to move forward with another applicant.

I was devastated and in shock. It felt surreal knowing I was so close to accomplishing everything I was working toward. Everyone told me I should be proud of myself for making it as far as I did, but I didn’t feel proud at all. 

Instead — and I acknowledge the dramatics — I wanted to completely ignore all things journalism-related and never write again because I didn’t feel talented or accomplished. I felt like my bylines were nothing to be proud of, and my love for storytelling simply disappeared. 

The 2023-24 fellows class was announced a few weeks after my initial rejection email, and I found myself staring at the candidate who got my dream job for hours. She had a master’s in journalism and multiple professional bylines; I was still an undergraduate and, at the time, only had two professional bylines. 

Surprisingly, knowing exactly who got the position immediately helped me feel better about the rejection. I was only 21 years old, and I was seen as qualified enough to be in the same applicant pool as this person who had far more experience than I did.

Realizing I was one of the candidates considered alongside this accomplished person showed me that even if I didn’t have my dream job now, I was on the right track. It felt like everything my friends and family were telling me finally made sense. I was proud of how far I made it. 

Instead of stressing out about combining a full-time class schedule with a full-time fellowship — which is what my life would have been like — I decided to take this newfound hope and delve into new opportunities. It felt like my love for journalism and learning new things was being revived.

I’ve had three internships since that rejection letter, each an amazing experience. 

I’ve stepped into the data journalism world and have been learning new coding languages and skills since May, something I never thought I’d see myself doing. I was able to write stories about food violations and teachers in Philadelphia and a million other things between that. 

Before the rejection, I was entirely certain I’d end up in opinion journalism because I didn’t enjoy or think I was good at covering hard news. I felt trapped in a box: if I wasn’t covering something like politics and elections, then I had to be an opinion journalist. 

When I started discovering new ways to pitch and write, like from a data perspective, I found myself enjoying the writing process more than I previously had. I looked forward to talking to people and learning about their experiences, and I enjoyed analyzing data and finding a story in the numbers. 

I made a decision to walk away from opinion journalism because I simply didn’t enjoy it anymore, and I haven’t looked back since. 

Being able to cover these new topics helped me realize the stories I produce are only meaningful if I have a passion for what I’m writing about. I can now acknowledge I didn’t love the fellowship position I was applying for, but rather I idolized the organization.

I don’t want to be stuck in the opinion branch of journalism for the rest of my career, and I shouldn’t push myself to do something I no longer have an interest in just to end up in that building 11-year-old me dreamed of. 

The rejection is probably the best thing that could have happened for me because my exploration of the various branches of journalism wouldn’t have been possible if I had been given the opinion position. Instead, I would be at an organization I love but lacking passion for my work. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be good at accepting rejection, but I’ve learned that rejection is just redirection. My first job out of college might not be my dream job, and that’s okay. I’m more than willing to accept that and grow as a journalist along the way. 

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