This is it, I thought. Months of preparation, studying, and sleepless nights were going to pay off. I was in the final round of in-person interviews for a Silicon Valley “Big Four” tech giant.
At the time, I still lived with my parents, worked a miserable job, and hadn’t started side-hustling. An offer would change my life.
And for 85 minutes, it seemed likely. The interviewer and I hit it off immediately. We laughed and smiled. I breezed through the typical behavioral questions.
Then, six little words brought the whole thing crashing down.
“I don’t want to do sales.”
Her smile flattened.
“Well… this is a sales position,” she said. Tartly.
To say the oxygen left the room is an understatement. It remains the only instance in my life where I’ve imagined a dream crumbling in my head as I’m actually watching it happen.
Twenty minutes later, I sat in another office with their Human Resources person.
“We’re sorry Jonah. You just aren’t the right fit.”
It remains the lowest point of my career. A moment forever tattooed on my brain. But this article isn’t about the sad stupor I ascended into on the drive home. It’s about what happened next — and how my mistakes can help you.
Two years later and I’m still not soaking in the sunshine on California beaches. I still haven’t doubled my salary or gotten a fancy new title.
Guess what? I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled professionally. And I owe it all to the decisions I made in the days, weeks, and months following that devastating failure.
Let’s dive into the critical ones you can steal and apply.
Write it down or write it off
“It’s one thing to fail but something else to fail to appreciate the experience and actually pick up something from it to change yourself for the better.” — Ozan Varol
After failing an interview, getting fired, missing a big promotion, etc, immediately take out a notecard and write down every reason why you think it happened.
There are two caveats to making this practice successful: Do it while the wound is fresh and don’t blame anyone else.
Here’s what my notecard exposed:
- The brand name stroked my ego so hard that I glossed over the job description. I would’ve hated sales.
- Shmoozing an interviewer doesn’t make up for a lack of qualifications. Yes, we got along great. But she was hiring someone to meet sales goals.
- talk too much when I’m nervous/excited/anxious.
Confession is healthy for the soul. With these insights in hand, I confidently chased other opportunities more aligned with my career aspirations and strengths.
Don’t break the chain
When Jerry Seinfeld began his comedy career, he mastered consistency by writing a joke every day. He would draw an “X” on his calendar with a fat-tipped sharpie after successfully completing this mission.
After three days, he’d have a “chain”.
Anytime Seinfeld felt an urge to take the day off, he’d remind himself… “Don’t break the chain.”
It’s tempting to accept your fate after a tough interview and stop trying. Research shows that escapism is a common reaction to career derailment — people immerse themselves in busy work, retreat from social groups, or take long trips.
Don’t break your chain.
When I got home, I thought about finding the nearest wall and bashing my head against it until life magically worked out. Instead, I woke up the next morning and adjusted my resume. The day after, I made a new list of companies I wanted to work for. Little by little, things got better.
And that momentum carried me through to my final destination.
Build a creative spaceship
Earth-shattering work you own will pull you right out of a career rut. It could be writing, painting, design, freelancing, dog walking — doesn’t matter.
Once I realized writing could supplement my career, the stress of finding a new job melted away. For the first time since graduating, “work” didn’t mean “9–5.”
- Extra income allowed me to be more selective in my job hunt and less stressed about the process.
- Freelancing helped me build a credible portfolio, negotiate a higher salary, and apply to jobs I never would’ve had a shot at previously.
- Creative ownership gave me confidence, style, and swagger.
- Proven writing and editing skills made me more competitive for better positions.
So, my best advice? Build your creative spaceship and shoot for the fucking moon.
“Creative work is…a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” ― Steven Pressfield
My life is by no means perfect. There have been moments when I think about the money and status I burned with those six little words. But I’m happy and motivated now, so who cares.
To recap, here’s how you can replicate my journey:
- Write it down or write it off — The healing process begins when you grab a notecard and start writing.
- Don’t break the chain — Always always keep your momentum going. No matter how small the action, it’s a matter of consistency and discipline. Plus, it’ll keep you out of the dark mental space your mind tries to escape to.
- Build a creative spaceship — Explore the beautiful world of art, side-hustling, and creative work beyond your 9–5. Chase your curiosities. Maybe, if things go well, you’ll never need to stress over a job again.
Truthfully, I hope you don’t need this advice. But if you do suffer a massive career setback, I want you to know there are better days ahead.
— Jonah Malin
This article originally appeared on Ladders.