Being in my penultimate year, I have been feeling the pressure of securing an internship ever since the start of the semester. A few of my close friends assured me to not worry and comforted me by saying that I will definitely get one. But being the perfectionist that I am, I knew that I did not only want an internship – I wanted a good one. And I was ready to do whatever it takes to reach that “star”.
Long story short, I did not get an internship in the company I dreamed of. Some other firms rejected me upfront with zero explanations, but this particular one gave me reasons that were out of my control. While most applicants get an official letter of acceptance or notice of rejection, I got neither. And in that moment, I thought I had lost. I would never, ever be able to reach that “star”. What’s worse was that I was left confused; I could not explain why I ended up not getting it. I remember calling and crying to my good friends for days and weeks to hypothesize some sort of explanation for my situation. I even called my career coach, whom I’d gotten closer to since the start of the year, to seek for an explanation I knew for sure I was never going to get. The fact that no one could give me a concrete explanation bothered me. A lot. Eventually, I knew I had to move on. But deep inside I also knew that behind the strong facade I tried to put on, I was filled with discouragement, disappointment, and anxiety. And it was especially even more difficult as my main pillar of support, my family, was 898km away in Jakarta.
Doubts and questions flooded my mind. I knew I was a capable person. But why did I end up in such an unfavourable position? I read books about the company, I talked to people working in it, I watched every hiring video I could about the company’s culture. What could possibly, after weeks of careful interview coaching and diligent research, have gone wrong? I just had to blame it on the situation. It must have been COVID-19. All the hiring freeze, the economic slowdown – these must have been the reasons. There simply was no other explanation.
After a good nine weeks, I realised it was time to really let go. Truth to be told, I will never get an explanation, but not getting an explanation or closure does not mean I have to stop thriving. I have to make peace with myself – not because I have all the answers, but because I know that I deserve that peace to move forward to even greater heights. From this short, yet valuable journey of mine, I would like to share six lessons I have learned that helped me overcome my anxiety during this pandemic.
- Focus on what is happening within you, not what is happening to you
- Know what are the things under your control. Let go of the things that are not. Know the difference between the two; and if the latter goes wrong, work on the former. How do you not discount your value even when you see no signs of success? How do you handle ambiguity, or even, learn to be comfortable with it and exploit it? You will learn these things. The stronger mindset, the increased morale, the indispensable character you are building from these experiences will benefit you in the long-run, even when it is extremely difficult to handle now.
- You can be rejected, but feeling like a rejection is a choice
- In the book “How of Happiness”, author Sonja Lubyomirsky concluded that one’s genetics, actions, and arbitrary life settings contribute 50%, 40%, and 10% respectively to one’s happiness levels. While you cannot control the 60% portion of it, you can control the other 40%.
- You can be sad. You can be discouraged. But make it short; do not let it interfere with your end goal. In my case, getting an internship was a means to my end goal of being a brilliant marketer. But is it the only means? Definitely not.
- There are always opportunities in every situation
- As my career coach says it, “as one door closes, another one opens. Look forward to it – even when it is not a door, but a window (that needs special lenses and approach to entry) opens”. Seize it when everyone thinks nothing great can be achieved in these unpredictable times.
- Stop comparing
- A popular topic in the field of psychology is the Ebbinghaus illusion. The point of this illusion is that we tend to see things in relatives in the presence of reference points, not absolutes, and hence conclude unsound conclusions. This illusion also mimics our behaviour in life. We have reference points to define happiness (e.g. income, achievements, grades, etc. of other people around us) and these points distort what we actually care about.
- So stop comparing yourself with other people. Erase, or reset all those reference points. Other people might inspire you or give you a picture of what you need to aim for, but do not let that be a reference point. Focus on you – your own happiness and your own growth.
- Practice gratitude
- A study done by Emmons and McCullough (2003) concluded that just writing down 5 gratitude points can positively change a person’s subjective well-being. Moreover, sharing your list can have that exact prolonged effect. Hence, gratitude can be one of the ways to reset reference points mentioned in point 4.
- It might sound cliche or tumblr-y at first (I’m not into those kinds of things), but I have personally started doing both twice a week, and putting the list around my environment (e.g. digitally on my phone), which helps a lot. It keeps me feeling extremely grateful for even the small things I usually take advantage of (e.g. video-calling my siblings).
- Seek your proper ‘star’
- It has been scientifically proven that people tend to miswant things, meaning that things that people usually aim for (e.g. money, good grades, good job) to be happy do not actually make them happy. Moreover, setting a goal is easy, staying with it is hard. It is therefore imperative to truly seek the right goal, the “star”, but how?
- Set goals that are challenging yet attainable, and most importantly, intrinsically rewarding to you. This means not only knowing the what of your goals, but also the how and the why. You will face bumpy roads along the way, but if you have the right goal and equip yourself with a growth mindset, you’ll go a long way. In other words, the why keeps you going.
I am still on the journey of practising the six lessons above. Indeed, they are much easier said than done. Nevertheless, from this journey so far, I realized I did not lose. I would only lose if I choose to lose. And let me tell you, I did not, do not, and will never choose to lose. In fact, I most definitely think I won. This experience puts me in a realm of vulnerability which, according to one of my favourite authors Brené Brown, is “the greatest measure of courage”. These kinds of experiences build resilience, and resilience, in turn, builds character. I would never, ever be this strong if things did not go this way.
I cannot tell you when the COVID-19 will end, or how long its impacts will last. But I know one thing for sure; like all other things – this too, shall pass. And when it does pass, I know I will be stronger than ever – and you will be too.