Brooke Wachtler

Much of the success and failure in our early life is dictated by the effort that we put into any given situation.  If you studied for a test, it was likely that you passed.  If you blew off preparing for a presentation, you probably didn’t get a great grade.  Yes, there may have been a difficult teacher who was critical, a coach who challenged you, or the person who was your first heartache- but all in all, the outcome of your effort was much more predictable.  Now it’s time to find a job, change your career, or pursue a promotion and the results of our effort are so much more unpredictable.  We’re much more susceptible to rejection. No matter how much time you spend preparing for the interview, or how many times you rewrite your resume, there are no guarantees that your effort will yield a reward.  Rejection is rough, but over the course of your career, it’s unavoidable.  I’m sure that you’ve heard of those stories, the ones about successful CEOs who overcame years of rejection to rise through the ranks?  How did they do it?  How do you parlay the harshness of rejection into success?  It all comes down to your mindset.

Emotional Responsibility

Emotional responsibility means that you, and you alone, are responsible for your emotional and behavioral reactions.  The bad news? Thinking, “My boss made me so angry!” or “My workload is stressing me out!” isn’t exactly true.  No one and nothing, can make you feel a particular way.  If this were true, we’d all react the same way when faced with a difficult boss or a stressful workday- and we know that this isn’t the case.  The good news? We have the power to determine how we'll react when faced with challenges or adversity.  In other words, it isn’t being rejected that leads us to feeling down or upset, but rather how we think about being rejected, which will dictate how we cope in the situation.

In the 1950s, psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis developed and introduced Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) (  REBT is a research-based treatment that focuses on the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  The premise of REBT is that we feel how we think, so by changing the way that we think about situations, we can change the way that we feel and react.  In a nutshell, REBT teaches us that by thinking more flexibly, realistically, and helpfully, we're better able to act in line with our goals and cope with situations more effectively.  Let’s take a closer look.1

It’s All About Mindset

What is particularly interesting about REBT is that we can learn to identify unhelpful patterns of thinking that are getting in our way, and then work to change these thoughts to a more helpful mindset.  Specifically, there are four types of thoughts that Dr. Ellis found to be particularly unhelpful.2

Let’s take Jenny for example.  Jenny applied for her dream job to work at a large media company, and she spent days revising her resume and preparing for the interview.  Even though Jenny received positive feedback following the interview, she received a call later that week telling her that the company decided to go with another candidate.  Jenny was devastated.  She felt angry and refused to leave her room for the rest of the day.  Jenny was so distracted by this news that she totally avoided preparing for another interview the following day.  It’s definitely understandable for Jenny to have a negative reaction to being rejected from her dream job, it’s a real let down!  However, Jenny’s reaction to not getting the job is self-defeating because it’s getting in the way of her continuing to focus on the ultimate goal- getting a job.  To better understand how Jenny can bounce back from this rejection, it’s important to examine what mindset is getting in Jenny’s way.


 The good news? We have the power to determine how we'll react when faced with challenges or adversity.


1) Demandingness: After hearing the news, one thought Jenny had was, “They should have hired me!”  The problem?  This thought is rigid and not totally logical. There aren’t any rules that say you must be hired for every job that you want.  Being hired is something that is largely outside of our control.  This way of thinking also isn’t particularly helpful.  The more  Jenny demands that the situation be different, the more upset she will become, because no amount of demanding is going to change the reality- somebody else got the job.

Try Thinking This Instead: There is nothing wrong with really wanting a job.  Thinking in terms of wants and preferences is much more realistic than thinking in terms of demands.  For example, thinking “I really really wanted that job, but no matter how much I wanted it, I can’t control the company’s decision making.”  Acknowledging our wants helps to drive goal-directed behaviors.  Also, recognizing that no matter how much you want something, you don’t always get it, helps to align our thinking with reality.  As a result, we don’t get as stressed and upset when things are outside of our control.

2) Awfulizing: Awfulizing beliefs are those thoughts that can send you down a worry spiral.  In Jenny’s situation, they may sound like, “It’s horrible that I didn’t get the job!”  Or, “Not getting this job is the end of the world, I’m never going to get my dream job!”  Why are these thoughts unhelpful?  For one, they're extreme.  I’m not going to try and convince Jenny that this isn’t a negative situation, but even if it’s really disappointing, it’s not the end of the world.  Secondly, Jenny continuing to tell herself that the situation is horrible will only make her more upset, which will interfere with her motivation to jump back into the job search.

Try Thinking This Instead: Remind yourself that, “It’s a huge bummer that I didn’t get the position, but telling myself that this situation is horrible is only making it more difficult to continue the job search!”  This way of thinking acknowledges that the situation is very disappointing, and at the same time is less extreme and more realistic.  This more realistic way of thinking can help reduce stress and anxiety, which will help facilitate problem solving.

3) Self-Downing: We often have the tendency to equate our value as a person with our successes and failures in life.  For example, Jenny may have thought, “I’m a failure because I got rejected from this job!”  How accurate is this statement?  Just because Jenny didn’t get the job doesn’t mean that she’s a complete and utter failure, it just means that she failed at getting the job!  Also, would someone who is a complete and utter failure even try to get a job?  This tendency to globalize a situation to one’s self-worth can really impede coping following a rejection.  Why keep applying for jobs if you think that you’re a complete failure?  Recognizing this distinction is important in learning to bounce back and to respond more effectively.

Try Thinking This Instead: Telling yourself, “Just because I got rejected from this job doesn’t mean that I’m a complete and utter failure.  All it means is that I failed at getting this job,” is much more accurate.  Humans are complex, and we aren’t defined by just one event or behavior.  Separating who you are as a person from the rejection is helpful in remaining calm and thinking about how to approach the situation.  In Jenny’s situation, that would mean preparing for her next interview.

Frustration Intolerance: “It’s too much,” “I just can’t,” and “I can’t stand it” are all phrases that we hear everyday; but, this way of thinking can be problematic when we start to believe it.  The more Jenny tells herself, “I can’t stand that I got rejected from this job,” the more she’s going to start believing it.  The truth?  Most of us deal with difficult and challenging situations everyday and get ourselves through.  If Jenny continues to convince herself otherwise, she isn’t going to believe in her ability to face this challenge.

Try Thinking This Instead: It’s definitely not pleasant to get rejected when interviewing for a job.  However, thinking, “It’s really disappointing that I got rejected, but I can get myself through this. I’ve been rejected in the past, and even though it was challenging, I bounced back,” provides a much more accurate evaluation of your ability to withstand adversity.  Reminding ourselves of past challenges and difficulties that we've overcome can help to motivate us and drive us toward accomplishing our goals.

As you can see, your mindset about rejection can shape the way that you respond to difficult situations.  In no way am I trying to convince you to think positively about being rejected, that’s not realistic.  However, the way that you evaluate the rejection can make all the difference in how you respond.  Even when faced with rejection, you don’t have to bring yourself down.  By shifting your mindset, you'll be able to respond effectively rather than reactively, keep yourself focused on things that are within your control, and act in line with your goals.

1 David, D., Cotet, C., Matu, S., Mogoase, C., & Stefan, S. (2017). 50 years of rational-emotive and cognitive-behavioral therapy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical psychology, 74(3), 304-318.

2 DiGiuseppe, R.A., Doyle, K.A., Dryden, W., & Backx, W. (2014). A practitioner’s guide to rational emotive behavior therapy (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Dr. Brooke Wachtler is a New York State licensed Psychologist and the founder/president of BEW Consulting & Training LLC (, @bewtraining), a professional development consultancy service that is rooted in research-based psychological theory. Dr. Wachtler loves applying her knowledge and understanding of motivation, behavior, and personality to business- specifically, to leadership development and innovation. She is passionate about helping people to change their thought processes, actions, and behaviors to assist them in reaching their professional and personal goals. Dr. Wachtler has been featured on Thrive Global, Fast Company, and Well & Good.


Comments (1)

  1. Julia Markus

I think Humanism is a concept in psychology that focuses on the whole individual and the effects of the higher order needs on human behaviour such as self-esteem and self-actualization. The Humanistic psychology rejected both the psychoanalysis...

I think Humanism is a concept in psychology that focuses on the whole individual and the effects of the higher order needs on human behaviour such as self-esteem and self-actualization. The Humanistic psychology rejected both the psychoanalysis and behaviourism as it believed that they were too pessimistic (Dryden, 2017) as per suggested from Humanists assert that the only source of knowledge and a moral code to live are human experience and rational thinking. Anything like knowledge 'revealed' to human beings by God, or in special books are just mythical and have no logical grounds . The Humanism approach focused on the significance in the growth of self-actualization, which is the final level or the highest form of human needs in accordance with the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

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