“Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough; it means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer.” —Mark Amend
How do you handle “no”?
You’re getting ready for dismissal. You have just survived yet another final interview for a principalship. You feel you have highlighted some of the qualities a principal should have and your plan to help the students and teachers move forward at the school. You have a clear vision, and you clearly outlined how to continue the mission already in place. When the phone call comes, you get a lump in your throat and chills. Once again, you hear not only that they have chosen another candidate who was a “better fit,” but you are being moved to another school.
Often when we read books by John Hattie, Todd Whitaker, Peter Senge, and other experts in leadership, they talk about teacher and student motivation, culture and climate, and other key topics designed to create the optimal environment for learning. Unfortunately, few authors address how to handle disappointment—or failure. As instructional leaders, we often go to bat and strike out. The expectation is that we take a moment (in most cases, a very brief moment), dust ourselves off, and step back up to the plate. In fact, leaders are considered “weak” if they let events like being overlooked for a position affect them.
“Reject rejection! If someone says no, just say NEXT.”—Jack Canfield
As difficult as it is to admit, I struggled. I interviewed many times in the past, met with district leadership for feedback, read many books, listened to talks on how to improve relationships and leadership. While I learned a lot, I never felt any better about my situation. I couldn’t understand why, if I was loved by so many teachers, students, parents, and community members, I wasn’t successful in what seemed to be an everlasting quest toward a principalship.
The result was a continual feeling of moving backwards. I found myself falling into habits I had in my early years as both an assistant principal and a teacher. I got defensive and insecure. No matter who I spoke to, the advice given always seemed to fall on deaf ears. I continued to do my job well, but I felt less effective than ever before in my 20-plus year career. Teachers within my new community didn’t see the leader that many others had followed in the past.
Turning a Corner
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” —Dr. Wayne Dyer
It was a Monday morning, and I was driving to work. It was the first time in more than 20 years that I wanted to quit. I was overcome by anger, frustration, and disappointment. It didn’t matter what I had accomplished. All I could see was despair. I walked into work and shut my door. I surfaced only to walk to my mailbox and got one of the most important pieces of mail in my life.
It was from a former student at a former school who had struggled with health issues but never allowed them to get in her way. She was graduating from high school and wanted to share this accomplishment with me. I had spent the better part of a year allowing my feelings to lead. I asked myself, “Why am I here?” and in the blink of an eye, it was evident.
Appreciating the “No’s”
“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” —Abraham Lincoln
The largest takeaway from these experiences was to not lose focus on my true mission. The disappointment of falling short of your goal multiple times can cause you to lose focus, but I realized I had to choose to learn from it. I reflected on each of the “no’s” I had heard over the years, and with each one came either an inspirational moment or a time where I was reminded why I became an educator. The most recent moment came when I had my meal paid for anonymously with a note that read, “You are not alone.”
Rejection in your eyes may actually be direction in reality. I assure you there is peace in rejection. You have to decide that you want to find it.
What do you do to grow from a “no”? How will it propel you to better each day?
Eric Basilo, EdD, is an assistant principal at Sanford Middle School in Sanford, FL. He is the 2018 Florida Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @drbrm54.