How to Deal with Rejection and Failure

By Samar Mohammed


Rejection and failure are two difficult concepts to swallow.

One thing that legal professionals and non-legal professionals have in common is that they experience the same failure and rejection. The same feeling of disappointment, sadness and crushing despair. Those pursuing a career in law are painfully aware of how competitive the market is, especially now following the COVID-19 pandemic. Many law firms have either deferred or cancelled many vacation schemes or training contracts, consequentially resulting in an increased competition that is likely to last for the foreseeable future.

I’ve experienced my fair share of rejection and failures.

Having dealt with and overcome a medical condition that impacted my degree classification and LPC-LLM results, I’ve struggled to get my foot in the door on countless occasions. I frequently questioned ‘Am I good enough?’ after every subsequent rejection. Eventually, I stopped myself. The moment I questioned whether I was good enough, I pushed myself to answer ‘Yes, I am.’ It was only once I began to look deeper at each rejection that I realised my fundamental flaw: my way of thinking. Rejection doesn’t have to be viewed as a clear ‘no’ but rather as a ‘what can I do better for next time?’. The difference between these two perspectives is a difference in mindset - a ‘growth mindset.’

By developing a ‘growth mindset’, you begin to view every setback as a potential for self-improvement. A way of reflection to identify your weaknesses, flaws and mistakes to overcome them for the next time.

However, it’s often easier said than done and there will be moments of weakness where you fall deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. So, how do we deal with failure and rejection? Here are my top 5 tips:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Each one of us has a different coping mechanism when we’re faced with rejection or failure. The scientific approach states that by taking a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply, more carbon dioxide enters your blood to calm down parts of your brain, such as the amygdala, that handle anxiety or distress responses. Essentially, it helps you return to your normal state to accept the news and think rationally to plan your next steps.

YOU WON’T ALWAYS BE THE RIGHT FIT

I used to view rejection as a reflection of my inadequacy or self-worth. However, after attending talks and speaking with legal professionals, I realised the bottom line: I am an individual. My personality, work ethic and ambition will not fit every firm and vice versa. Apart from academics, law firms often choose candidates that reflect and match with their culture, values and vision. Naturally, as we don’t all think or act alike, it would be unlikely that you would match every law firm. Once I realised that I narrowed my search for law firms that resonated with me and as a result, produced applications that stood out.

REFLECT

Go through your application and question, “Did I rush it?”, “Did I clearly articulate myself?” and “Was this the best I could do?” It's a great opportunity to reflect on your performance and acknowledge your weaknesses and strengths. This skill isn’t just beneficial now but will serve you well in your legal career to hone your analytical and problem-solving skills. With countless application deadlines approaching simultaneously, we make silly spelling/grammar mistakes alongside the fatal flaw- not answering the question. In our attempt to ‘sell ourselves’, we often forget the aim or purpose of the questions being asked. Re-reading over your application or feedback with a clear, stress-free mindset will often allow you to spot small things that you could have improved on.

‘TWO EYES ARE BETTER THAN ONE’

Check with others. Ask friends, colleagues and legal professionals you've reached out to on LinkedIn, to review your application for constructive feedback. Whilst self-reflection is essential both before and post application submissions, it is great to get another pair of eyes to read over your work. Recently, I applied to a firm and received a rejection. I reflected and couldn’t spot any huge issues at first until I reached out to a trainee solicitor to review it. They identified the main issues; I could have sold myself more and I didn’t expand enough on the ‘why’ when answering ‘why do I want to be a trainee at X firm’. Always remember, two eyes are better than one.

BE MINDFUL

Those entering the legal profession are aware of the hard-work, commitment and dedication expected. Legal professionals have a knack for being hard on themselves - to the point of self-destruction. A report by Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales showcased that over 93% of young lawyers are stressed with over one-quarter feeling ‘extreme’ stress. Over 100 young lawyers admitted to having suicidal thoughts. This is the stark reality of the legal profession and thus, it is important to be mindful of your mental and physical wellbeing. Acknowledge that what you’re doing is hard and get help if you need it. Mental health support and resources for individuals at all stages of their legal career can be found at http://younglegalaidlawyers.org/selfcare.

While the process is relentless, remind yourself that you ARE good enough. That you ARE working hard. And that you WILL get there.

Don't let rejection defeat you. Let it define you!

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