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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Dear High-Achievers: You Won't Always Get What You Deserve

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When I was in college, I applied for a position in my university’s writing center. Let me tell you—I wanted that job bad. Not only did it mean I’d get to work in a role that was relevant to my degree, but it’d also give me plenty of time to study when there weren’t a ton of appointments.

The best part? I knew I was qualified. I was minoring in journalism and had prior tutoring experience, a perfect GPA in all of my English and writing courses, and a glowing recommendation from one of my journalism professors.

I submitted my application materials (well ahead of the deadline, of course) and waited for what I assumed was inevitable. One unsuspecting Thursday afternoon, an email from the head of the writing center arrived. Already feeling accomplished, I opened it.

While your application was strong, we’ve decided to move forward with other candidates.

I was instantly deflated. How was this happening? I checked every single box that they were looking for. Where did things fall apart?

Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, I decided to roll up my sleeves and do some detective work to find out who had landed those coveted positions. If it wasn’t me with my flawless credentials, then who?

Come to find out, the writing center had hired three new tutors that semester—none of which were any more qualified than I was.

  • One landed the job because her financial need was determined to be greater, which made her a better fit for my school’s work-study program.
  • Another had a friend who already worked in the writing center and pulled rank for her.
  • And, the last one? He scored the gig because he was a male student, and the writing center was busting at the seams with female tutors.

You’d think those facts would’ve provided me at least a little bit of relief, but instead I became increasingly frustrated.

Sure, I could take comfort in the fact that my rejection obviously wasn’t a knock against my own smarts. But, it was actually that very fact that really ground my gears: There was absolutely nothing I could’ve done to get that job. Despite being one of the most qualified applicants, nothing I did would’ve made any difference.

It was on that exact day that I learned an important lesson: You can be the most skilled or experienced and still lose out on an opportunity you know that you’re deserving of.

When it comes to our careers, that’s not a concept we talk about too often. There’s this pervasive message that if you just learn enough, network enough, and try enough you’ll eventually reach that pot of gold. But, that’s the discouraging thing. That’s not always the case.

There are so many other factors that come into play. Nobody likes to admit that a huge part of success is actually only attributable to sheer, dumb luck. It’s a rude awakening that forces us to recognize that there’s only so much of our own destinies and achievements that we can control. Being in the right place or meeting the right person at the exact right time is sometimes all it takes to make a world of difference.

So, where does this leave you (and me)? When you know that you were more than worthy of something—and yet, you miss out on it anyway—go ahead and take your moment or two to curse the stars for your misfortune. You can bet I did that very same thing.

After that? Take a deep breath, dust yourself off, and find a way to move on. No, you may not get what you know you deserve. But, if experience has taught me anything, it’s that you’ll end up with something even better.