The Rejection Book: Good luck, bad luck, who knows?

I've been rejected by a lot of people and organizations over the years. The number of my rejections became so comical, that my parents put together a book. 

This was a special book, since many of these rejections were later reversed. On one side of the pages would be a rejection letter, if they sent one. On the opposite page would be a letter of acceptance.  
There's one story that I remember well. 

I always wanted to be a Foreign Service officer. You live abroad, represent US foreign policy, and learn languages. In college, I applied to intern at a US embassy, the ultimate internship for political science majors. I spent an enormous time on the application.

I was rejected. 

I called up the State Department and spent over an hour being transferred from person to person, trying to find who was in charge. 

Finally, I found the decision maker. I explained how my rejection was an oversight and that I'd love to intern at the embassy in Rome. They no longer even had my application on record, since they shred the rejects, but we had a great talk and they invited me to send over my resume. 

By the following week, I was accepted as an intern at the embassy in Rome and, once again, amending my rejection book. 

Not all my rejections worked out that way. 

Years later I applied for the Rhodes. This is the scholarship of all scholarships. Bill Clinton got it. You study for free in the UK, meet great people from around the world and get a masters degree. 

I remember sitting in a Yurt in Mongolia working on my Rhodes essay. I should have been focused on drinking horse milk, not writing an essay. The essay passed muster and I was interviewed as a finalist. 

I was rejected. 

Instead of going to the UK, I stayed in San Francisco and doubled down in the startup world.

Glad I lost that one. 

Years later, I was watching Charlie Wilson's war (great movie for a political science major). The Soviets just pulled out of Afghanistan and the CIA team that helped was celebrating - everyone except one guy. 

He tells this story:
There once was a farmer in China who had a horse. One day the horse ran away. All his neighbors came to console him about his bad luck, but he was not distressed. He told them, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"

A few days later the horse returned and with it was a mare. All his neighbors came to him to congratulate him on his good fortune, but again he would only say, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"

A week later his son was riding the mare, fell and broke his arm. Again the neighbors came to wish him condolences and tell him how very unlucky he was. The farmer shook his head and said, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"

A few days later, war was declared and all able-bodied young men were conscripted, but because of his son's broken arm, he was not."Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"
I think of Airbnb and the 999 days of no traction - what bad luck they had.

Jack Dorsey, part of a product without traction and moving onto something called Twitter - what bad luck he had.

Evernote, unable to raise and almost going under - what bad luck they had.

Color, raising $41m from sequoia - what good luck they had.

When I read the tech press, hear the ups and downs, the tactical wins and losses, I always think - good luck, bad luck, who knows? 

It's hard to evaluate something in a given moment. Our reactions are too immediate for implications that are often long term - with benefits and downsides that are hard to predict. Let go of the moment and instead try saying to yourself, good luck, bad luck, who knows?

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4 responses
I was reading through your blog and I found this particular article very deep. I guess I am going through the phase where I have no idea why I am doing what I am doing. Maybe that's probably why. Sometimes I am not sure if rejection is good or bad, should I have persisted, or should I have left it. I guess its easier to connect the dots looking backwards.. never looking forward
Love it. I work in a startup and really feel what you are saying here.
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