The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Dear Aunt T: Rejections and reflections


Recently, one of my professors tasked us with reading a variety of professionals’ take on rejection. I couldn’t help but recall my “first”. Not my first literary one, mind you.

For some odd reason, while each “Thanks, but no thanks” does burn a little, none stick out quite as much as my first job refusal.

Picture it: 22 year-old, dewy-eyed me. I’d graduated from Berklee College of Music a year before and was working as an executive assistant in the copyright department at one of the top publishing companies, Warner Chappell Music Group.

My job wasn’t particularly bad as much as it was boring: I answered the director’s phone, took messages, entered data, and filed paperwork. It was a pretty standard administrative gig.

However, as a spunky youngblood, I wanted nothing more than to be part of the action. I wanted to work with the artists, and near the recording studios; I wanted to see the limelights, and maybe make a difference in an already sexist, baby nepo industry.

Well, I got my chance. There was an executive assistant position for two of the top A&R directors at Warner Brothers Records. Somehow, my resume got to their desk and I got a call to interview.

That morning I spent a good hour trying to select the coolest, hippest outfit I had in my closet. That was the difference between creative and admin: business casual usually meant you were a square working in the paper-pushing division, but hipsters and trend-setters worked in creative.

I was confident that’s where I belonged. Cut to the interview. I sat in a poshy office with two men maybe a decade older than me. What they wore and said weren’t particularly memorable, neither were their questions. But what they did during my entire 15 minutes still sets my blood boiling.

While I sat on the edge of the oversized chair, careful to lean forward as I’d read it indicated interest and confidence, the entire 15 minutes in that meeting neither of the men even looked at me.

One was perched on a chrome barstool a few feet away and the other behind a desk that seemed more like a stage for his toy and gadget collection.

The entire time both were too busy thumbing their tiny flip phones – I later learned they were texting each other; yes, common even in the early 2000’s. I knew I wasn’t going to get the job long before I received the rejection email a few hours later. I knew seconds into our awkward Q&A exchange.

Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have been so bothered by any of it had I known I never had a chance at the position. The entire interview was a formality.

I learned later the person that got the job was hired from within – someone’s relative or friends’ kid if memory serves me right. That sting though – the feeling of hopelessness and realization that rejection is completely unavoidable and sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with one’s character, resume, or capability.

Sometimes it’s just bad timing. Or bad interviewers. Or both. The point is, I learned a lot from that one experience. I learned I didn’t want to work in creative – at least not at that record label. But more importantly, I learned that that rejection had nothing to do with me.

I learned that some things just aren’t meant to be.

Over the years I’ve had more bad interviews, received 100’s of polite query let downs, and sometimes not even a consideration for a gig I’m perfectly qualified for. It still sucks. Every. Freaking. Time. But I can’t say it burns quite as bad as that one.

Many of you might be reaching the end of your college careers and are excited to get out there to show the world what you can do. Remember that energy – that feeling of invincibility – you’ll need it when [not if] you get that first blow to the ol’ ego.

I won’t sugar coat it. That first one will make you question whether you chose the right industry or whether you really are all that or just mid. It’s okay to feel all those insecure and vulnerable feelings. That’s normal.

Now, learn from it though – how you conducted yourself, how the people/person that interviewed conducted themselves. Reflect.

Most importantly though, don’t let rejection – that deflation of your ambitions – kill your momentum. Take it as a loss, lick your wounds, and get your butt firmly back in the saddle. Or, as I often say, “just one more round…”

And sometimes, one more round is all it takes.

Tera Johnson-Swartz can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.

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