"I didn’t get the job," I told my father over the phone, tears brimming in my eyes. There are only so many publishing internships available to students, so I had applied to all the same gigs as my fellow English majors. Of course, when Shelly* told me that she had gotten an interview with my top choice, I quickly checked my email and found that no such offer had been extended to me. My vision went red and I felt a weight in my stomach that was all-too-familiar: I had lost the job.
I was officially a loser.
Immediately, I began comparing myself to Shelly. "Dad, I’ve read her work, and it’s not even that good," I complained, a few tears breaking loose from their levees and tumbling down. "Her writing is so clunky, and the way she uses commas is —"
At that point, my father interrupted me.
I caught my breath, and could hear him also inhaling over the speaker, miles away. My father is a font of advice for me. He has been around the job circuit much longer than I have, so I’ve always respected his opinion about all things career-related. When he had collected his thoughts, he proceeded to give me five valuable pieces of advice; and, when he was finished speaking, I no longer felt so helpless. What he said has stuck with me ever since, and I think anyone currently feeling like a loser would benefit from his reminders.
When you experience a setback, whether it be professional or personal, your wounded ego needs time to breathe and recharge. Allow yourself to dwell in the feeling of being a loser. It’s unhealthy to suppress those emotions, but also be sure to limit the time you spend in that depressed place. There’s a difference between taking a break for your mental health and shame spiraling, or getting lost in your despondence.
Before you take that break and allow yourself to feel intense sorrow, you need to make a plan for how to extricate yourself before you hit shame spiral territory. I like to set limits through activities: I tell myself that I can eat a single slice of cake, or take a long shower, or watch two episodes of Criminal Minds, and then I'll have to return to my normal life.
After Shelly got the interview and I didn't, I wanted to complain. I kept bringing up the reasons why she didn't deserve the job, the things that set her and me apart. The only thing I refused to discuss was how it made me feel that she was picked over me. I was embarrassed to admit that I felt like a loser, and angry that something so simple could rock my self-esteem.
When you’re feeling like a loser, you might not want to take the plunge by investing in therapy, but talking to someone — whether it be a therapist, a friend or a family member — will undoubtedly help you work through your feelings. The people in your life care about you and will listen to you. Even if you’re not looking for advice, their presence alone can be incredibly helpful, and we all know how freeing it is to vent.
If you don’t feel like you can talk to anyone you know, call a local hotline.
My father next urged me not to get bogged down by rejection.
"No matter how many times you get passed over for an interview or your treasured application lands in the trash, you need to bounce back."
Of course, he's right: the only way to ensure an eventual acceptance is to never give up trying. Resilience is an incredibly important trait to develop, and you’ll never be able to claim that you are resilient until you’ve felt like a total loser and made your way back to good self esteem.
After my father hung up the phone, I took a moment to collect myself, and dove back into job applications. I applied to four more jobs on that day alone. It actually made me feel better to be actively searching for other opportunities; the idea that there were more jobs out there helped me regain confidence that I could eventually succeed at finding my own job. Subjecting yourself to the kind of scrutiny that made you feel like a loser in the first place is certainly daunting, but there's power to be found by getting back out there.
When a parent tells you you're special, it's easy to brush it off. Of course they think you're special — they're your parents! Despite the predictability of this reminder, it still affected me when my father said it over the phone. Here is his reasoning:
There’s nobody like you. You are an individual, and you have your own personal outlook on life which is entirely individual to you. Comparing yourself to someone else is never going to make you happy. Therefore, you should look at yourself as your own worst competition, and set your goals accordingly —try to beat your own best record, not Shelly's. You’re good at some things; you’re bad at others. There is nobody else in the world who can toast bread perfectly like you, who can french braid their hair within seconds, who keeps three pet octopi in their bathtub at home. No matter what your quirk is, you’re special, and no one else can fill a place you’ve occupied in the same way. So stop looking at what other people are doing and focus on being the best version of yourself you can be.
It's hard to hear, especially after feeling so uplifted, but it's true. Despite how incredibly talented you are in your own way, there are also many people similar to you out there. You need to be able to envision yourself as part of a network of people who can do similar things, all of whom are trying out for similar opportunities. There are literally so many people who could do the same job you do. That means that getting hired isn’t just a matter of merit —there is also a lot of luck involved. Usually, opportunities won't just fall into your lap without work; even if you work hard, you aren't guaranteed success.
But just because you weren’t lucky this time doesn’t mean you never will be.
As upset as I was when Shelly was chosen over me, my father’s reminders encouraged me to think about my predicament while also considering the bigger picture. I applied to more internships, eventually managed to secure two, and had a great summer writing and making money. I don’t think any of that would have happened if I hadn’t heeded my father’s advice — I might have lost myself in a shame spiral instead of picking myself up, dusting myself off, and trying again. And again. Until I succeeded. And at that point, I no longer felt like a loser at all.
*Name has been changed.