applyTransform & rejection

applyTransform & rejection

Some things that happened today (April 10th):

  1. A family member celebrated their birthday surrounded by loved ones
  2. The United incident went public
  3. There was a deadly shooting in a California elementary school
  4. I got my first rejection letter
  5. I went to Google HQ NYC for the iOSoho meet-up

So much to write about, but what I can handle right now is writing about rejection. It was a hot topic in the afternoon Slack channels today and also brought up by one of the brightest programmers I know at the meet-up tonight.

There actually is such a thing as rejection therapy (it's based on the psychological technique of Flooding); I even found a free version of the rejection therapy game online. It seems nifty, in a TED-talk, learn-by-doing sort of way. It might even be a good fit for someone in the beginning of their career who hasn't experienced rejection much.

As a mid-career (or end of the beginning, anyway) someone who has been down similar roads to this before, I want to give myself some reminders that I can read back on when I've iterated way beyond this first rejection.

  • Granted the context it came in (see numbered list above), but this first rejection didn't bother you too much, so there's not much reason for future rejections to bother you more than this. Sure, rejections post-interview will have a bit of an extra sting, but don't let them hold too much sway over your day.
  • Rejections are harsh breezes that don't have to determine your daily weather forecast (mood). Your whole job search is a season, like Spring, that will start off showers and end in flowers (even if it lasts more than one actual season). Keep planting seeds (i.e., applying for jobs, keeping your portfolio/skills up-to-date, networking, helping others).
  • Data, data, data. You cannot make bricks without clay (and you can't make a real job search without rejections). Your bricks may be going to another Notre Dame Cathedral, who knows. Keep using your resources: fill in your C4Q Job Tracker religiously so you can get solid info on your conversion rate, use your Project Manager as long as you can, reach out to mentors and keep an eye peeled for new ones.
  • Waiting is the hardest part. But you've done waiting before. Remember when that gigantic ovarian cyst sent you to the ER and you had to wait until after the surgery to find out if it was  malignant/cancerous (it wasn't, phew)? That was harder, and scarier, than this. Remember the first Christmas after the divorce spent waiting for your Dad to show up, but he never did? That was more hopeless than this. Remember waiting at home in New York for the sound of your mother's voice over the telephone from the New Jersey hospital the night your nephew was born? That was more earth-moving than this. So you can wait.
  • When you start going on interviews, don't be intimidated by (or too enamored of) the white walls. I spent most of today in Facebook HQ NYC and tonight at Google HQ NYC, and they're both White Cubes. White Cubes is an art major term for a certain popular style of museum and/or gallery. Think the Museum of Modern Art or most Chelsea galleries in NYC: white walls, gray/cement floors. Supposedly the better to show the art, but that paradigm is shifting. Black Cubes are the new hotness if you're displaying a lot of installation or video art.

Anyways, if, as art historian Carol Duncan says, museums are "rituals of display of power and wealth" than surely so are corporate headquarters? I would argue that if you put your average contemporary tech interviewee in a room with chippy sloganeered posters, blonde wood tables with multiple computer displays, and whiteboard-painted white walls, they would feel the same anxiety and sense of awe your average French peasant felt when looking at the Notre Dame Cathedral under construction.
So if before, during, or after an interview (and/or rejection) you feel small, helpless, and unloved by these (albeit young) institutions, just remember that you're seeing what you were built to see: wealth and power. But these corporations are just blank white walls (or white walls with their logo splattered everywhere *cough* GOOGLE *cough* *cough*). They're nothing without the people inside them who give them meaning. So if one of those fancy white-walled companies decides that today it doesn't want to let you give it meaning, don't do their work for them for free by giving them extra meaning. Mourn the loss, lick your wounds, find a lesson if there is one (even if it's just data structures & algorithm practice) but don't let the big fancy companies (or the slickest, keenest start-up) hurt you more than they should. Long-time New Yorkers know the glossiest walls and windows of the tallest buildings aren't permanent.
Related Side Note: I remember the first time I met someone with a harvard.edu email address. I was 18 and the experience blew my mind. Partly because of the context: it was 2000 so naturally I was on a web bulletin board/forum for long-form improvisors (neeerrrrd) and someone online arranged a Spring Mix CD(flat, shiny silver discs with music inside) Exchange. The person I was assigned had the Harvard email addy. This blew me away because 1) I thought Harvard was like the moon and the odds of meeting someone from there were slim and 2) I couldn't believe they went to Harvard AND were a long-form improvisor. At that time (and maybe for all time?) if you were doing long-form comedic improvisational theatre it was because you had something terribly sad inside you you felt compelled to hide/share/hide/share/etc (fact). And I did not know that someone with the pedigree of a Harvard diploma was allowed to ever be sad again (or could end up in a low-low-paying field like improv). My rough understanding of the East Coast Meritocracy was that once you Won you were perma-happy and perma-perfect. You certainly weren't waiting for a mix CD with a lot of Elvis Costello and Dar Williams on it from my dorky teenage self. And yet twas so.
Related Side Note Moral: Pedigree is not perfection. Don't misunderstand me, having certain names on your resume both school-wise and experience-wise can grease the skids real nice. But you'll never stop having to think strategically and like a free agent. You'll never be "done." And hopefully this is a career you like enough that the idea behind that previous sentence doesn't turn you off.

  • Listen. I've heard others say not to give up over and over. I've heard stories of innovative hustle that paid off. Those stories are important and can keep your head in the game, so keep listening to your peers and mentors.
  • Lastly, a quote from a book I loved when I was a teenager and discovering improv and so was delighted to see on a list of recommended tech books today. It's so cheesy and I think I still love it:
“Gardening is not outcome-oriented. A successful harvest is not the end of a gardener's existence, but only a phase of it. As any gardener knows, the vitality of a garden does not end with a harvest. It simply takes another form. Gardens do not 'die' in the winter but quietly prepare for another season.” 
― James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility
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