By Denise Nemeth
Rejection, once an unwelcome guest, has transformed into a catalyst for growth and redirection in my career. While my initial reaction to rejection was reluctance, I now am incredibly grateful for the role rejection has played in shaping my professional journey. I have evolved to not only make peace with it but actively seek and advocate for it among others.
Growing up under the influence of my brilliant mother, who consistently expected nothing but the best from me, I naturally became an overachiever, albeit sometimes to my own detriment. As a child, I constantly strove to be at the top of my class and even school, including upperclassmen. Truthfully, I never struggled with academics, but I was not one to not put in the work. As my mother would say, it was my “only job”. And so, when the time to perform well in college came, I assumed I would naturally continue to do well. At first, this was true, thriving at my local community college. However, as I found myself needing to transfer to a four year university. Transitioning from a small community college to a large university was a pivotal moment. The shift from a cozy 30-person class to a daunting 400-person lecture hall caught me off guard, impacting my performance and, consequently, though I hate to admit it, my self-esteem. As my calculus professor astutely pointed out, I was accustomed to being a big fish in a small pond and found the prospect of becoming a small fish in a big sea intimidating—an observation I only truly grasped in hindsight. That first “C” was not only a shock, but also a harsh realization of the level of difficulty I was about to face, but in academics and in life. (More on this in a future blog).
I now firmly believe that rejection should be normalized, expected, and openly discussed. The realization that rejection presents an opportunity for profound personal growth transformed my perspective. Reading Jia Jang’s book, “Rejection Proof,” and absorbing his TED Talk on “100 Days of Rejection” was a key moment in making amends with rejection. Jang, initially fearing rejection, intentionally sought it out, putting himself in amusing yet challenging situations, like requesting a “burger refill” at a restaurant. Inspired by his journey, I incorporated rejection-seeking into my life—asking for a high starting salary at the beginning of my career, applying to medical school, seeking research opportunities, vying for leadership roles, and pursuing scholarships and awards.
Surprisingly, I’ve encountered much less rejection than I anticipated, and each instance has imparted invaluable life lessons. To my surprise, I was rewarded with some incredible opportunities and roles I never imagined I would have the chance to experience. Additionally, every rejection has served as a stepping stone to improvement, making me more resilient and resourceful. Consequently, I encourage those I mentor to fearlessly pursue their dreams, welcoming rejection as a companion on their journey. I often ask them, “What is the worst that can happen?” and guide them through verbalizing the worst-case scenario. Once articulated, the perceived challenges often appear more manageable, especially when we have a strong support system in place.
To anyone perusing this reflection: Seek the discomfort of rejection. That is the only way you will ever get comfortable with it. Make it your goal to extract lessons from it and find ways to become a better person based on them. Challenge yourself to look for opportunities that seem too good to be true or too “out of your league”. You might just surprise yourself.
Denise Nemeth is a third-year medical student at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Medicine in San Antonio, TX. She is originally from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico via Eagle Pass, TX. She currently serves as the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) National Medical Student Committee Social Media and Marketing Coordinator. Denise is an active member of multiple organizations including the Latino Surgical Society (LSS), the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), and the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons. She is passionate about providing healthcare to medically underserved and marginalized communities and she currently serves on the Community Practice and DLPD committees of SAGES. Her research and subspecialty interests are varied and include minimally invasive surgery, wound healing, and gender equity within surgical specialties. She is an advocate for Latinx health and hopes to see increased representation via increased numbers of Latinx/Hispanic physicians and surgeons. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world, reading, and writing. Denise aspires to become a rural surgeon.