I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection in my career, but one of the more personal experiences was during my senior year of college nearly 20 years ago when I was rejected by Green Corps, an environmental organizing training program, for being “too Southern.” I’m still not sure what that meant, but I think they were trying to say I wasn’t hard core enough for the program.
The rejection at the time was devastating, because I was counting on the Green Corps as my post-college plan to save the planet. I’d done everything I could to network with the leadership, befriend former Green Corps trainees, obtain impressive recommendations, on top of the time and expense to attend the interviews in Washington D.C. On the bright side, I was able to leverage a new contact I’d met during the D.C. meet-up to get my first job.
Fast forward two years as I was applying for grad schools. I had my heart set on going to a top-notch environmental graduate school program. I was rejected from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Yale School of the Environment, Cornell Master’s in Environmental Policy, and George Washington’s School of Public Policy to name a few.
I ended up going to a lesser-known graduate school program at the University of South Carolina, but was blessed to meet my now husband and get a job at the South Carolina Energy Office doing incredible work in renewable energy and alternative fuels. That work helped me find my calling!
During my career, I have been turned down for more positions than I can count, but two had interesting twists. After not being hired for a research position at the Smart Electric Power Alliance, I ended up filling the vacancy of the person who interviewed me six years later. I was also rejected for a junior researcher position I had interviewed for at the World Resources Institute , but just started a job there recently in a senior management role.
I’ve also experienced a lot of disappointment. I was rejected three years in a row for a promotion at a former employer. I was rejected two years in a row for a national energy award. One summer I had to raise funds for a research project and asked 47 companies for financial support. I was told ‘no’ 41 times, but it was the six ‘yes’s’ that fully funded the work.
After a while, the rejection just becomes a normal part of your life.
Recently, I took a stroll around the first D.C. neighborhood I lived in, and I was overwhelmingly proud of myself. I realized that I was doing exactly what I had set out to do with my career. I hadn’t let my fear of rejection stop me from realizing my dreams. I KNOW that there is more rejection in store for me, but when it comes to the environment there is too much on the line to stop trying.
I owe a lot to the woman from Green Corps who called me ‘too Southern’ all of those years ago. I learned that my path can’t be dictated by one person and that there are many routes to get to the place you want to be. In the end, I’ve found that all of the ‘no’s’ simply prepare you to do the things that everyone else thinks are impossible. And for that I am truly grateful.
In response to this article, I have received thank you emails from other recent Green Corps applicants who got rejection letters at the beginning of March 2021 and from industry friends who have been experiencing other types of rejection.
I am a huge fan of Brene Brown‘s work and this article was my first step to be more vulnerable – something that is very difficult for me. This experience has profoundly changed my views on vulnerability and I believe we need more of this type of raw honesty in the world.
Great post, Erika. I too have been rejected repeatedly. Thank you for being honest, vulnerable, dedicated and successful all at the same time.
OMG! I was also a GreenCorps reject. I think we are an extremely talented bunch! 🙂 I also have a deep love for Jennifer Jenkins! ❤