Last week I got a rejection letter from a prospective employer. It was after the last round in a lengthy interview process and a final performance I thought I nailed. I fully expected to get an offer. So, the “we were impressed but chose another candidate” message really punched my ego. The recruiter offered to collect and share feedback in case I was curious about where I fell short. I welcomed it, certain that the stories in my head could not have been any more pleasant than the truth. I was right.
“You didn’t seem excited about the role.” That was the main consensus amongst the panel of judges who had scrutinized my aptness for the job. There was no criticism about my qualifications or concerns for my ability to carry out the role. And most importantly, there was no mention of my flaws, a long list of imperfections that my brain had already been scanning through trying to figure out which one might have been the culprit.
I figured it had to do with my being shy, my greatest insecurity when it comes to human interaction, particularly in an interview setting where confidence and assertiveness are expected. I thought they might have noticed how nervous I was. Maybe they saw my cheeks blush or heard my voice tremble. All aspects I fear make me a less than ideal candidate. Yet, as often is the case, the story I told myself was just that – a story. An elaborate tale made-up by my bitter alter ego, Stuart, who likes to eat Nutella and wallow in self-pity.
I didn’t get the job because I didn’t really want the job in the first place. I just wanted the satisfaction of being the chosen one. I didn’t get the job because they saw right through me. Or better yet, I was too transparent. I voiced concerns about aspects of the role I didn’t find suitable. I gave honest answers when asked questions about my interest in the company and aspirations for the future. I didn’t pretend that working for them was my lifelong dream. I didn’t deny that I have personal passions and interests that a proper work-life balance should allow me to cultivate. I didn’t fake it and it cost me the job.
That’s the price of being authentic. Staying true to yourself means that you can’t make everyone happy. Some people may like you and relate to you, others won’t. Some people will say YES to you, others will affirm a decisive NO. It’s a harsh reality for people-pleasing perfectionists like me. We are masters at conforming to our audience in order to elicit the desired response. But having to put up an act is exhausting. Even if effective at shielding us from rejection, the constant pretending inevitably leaves us tormented by the symptoms of impostor syndrome. I know this because I lived through it. Impostor syndrome is the nemesis of self-love.
When you stop faking it, you find freedom. That freedom empowers you. It allows you to get to know yourself much better and learn to love yourself much more. Rejection always stings a little. It’s hard not to take it personal. Yet it’s quite egocentric of us to expect that the world will always, unanimously, unequivocally agree with us. Let’s instead be ourselves and celebrate what makes us different, what makes us unique. Even if that means not getting the job. The right one, I’m certain, will come along.