My brain won't let go of a job I wasn't offered

June 7, 2021

In the summer of 2017, I applied for a communications job with a Silicon Valley startup. After two phone interviews, they invited me to an in-person interview at a co-working space with no signage on the outside.

The two gentlemen conducting my interview met me outside on the sidewalk and guided me to their home office, which occupied one of the co-working space’s sub-warrens. As we headed through the company’s rooms, we passed several young men in shorts and t-shirts working on laptops. One of them had four or five cases of Soylent stacked under his table.

In a shared conference room, we talked for about an hour about my background, the company, and the position. I was excited about the job because even though they were looking for someone with more of a technical background than I had, I felt I was capable of handling everything in the job description. Moreover, I loved the company’s business. Even though they only had about 20 employees, they were a B2B SaaS with an easily-explicable product, and even without their prompting I could see the business proposition for their product and how it applied across a range of industries.

I thought I interviewed well, but I didn’t get the job because, as I mentioned, they wanted someone with more of a technical background to communicate with developers.

I was disappointed, and a couple months later landed a great job, so things worked out well enough for me. That said, since the start of 2018, that company’s had a run of dramatic good fortune, and I haven’t been able to go more than a couple months without hearing about how they’ve raised a new major round of funding at a billion-dollar valuation, they’re expanding yet again, their eventual IPO is going to create a bunch of millionaires, or how they’re generally killing it.

This isn’t a complaint. Again, things worked out exceptionally well for me, even considering that I got laid off at the end of 2020, because I’ve since landed another job that, so far, I like very much. But then again, I can’t help wondering what might have been. It’s wildly irrational! I never had that job, so I didn’t lose anything. I’ve never approached my professional life as a way to get rich. So why must I get annoyed and experience mild despair over this freaking company?

Almost certainly, it’s a kind of loss aversion mixed with confirmation bias. That is, I suspect I’m noticing more stories about them because of my brush with them, given the company isn’t particularly popular or well known among the general population. Even though I didn’t get so much as a job offer — and therefore was rejected by the company, instead of choosing to reject them, myself — I still feel a sting for the lost opportunity to get rich working for a company that, as best I can tell, has moved out of the co-working space and into a building that looks like a converted dentist’s office. I also can’t determine if they offer health insurance, let alone sponsor a 401(k).

My main takeaway is that despite years of reminding myself my job is neither my identity nor my worth, and that wealth matters insofar as I can use it to attain comfort but wealth itself won’t make me happy or fulfilled, I’m still prone to the base instincts and urges those mantras are meant to ward off. Fixating on a payout that may never come to workers means skipping over the actual time spent working, and, for that matter, the actual work one does.

I’ve yet to find a perfect job where I’m challenged just the right amount, achieve perfect work-life balance, get paid satisfactorily, and make the kind of positive impact on the world I can be proud of sharing. Something tells me I wouldn’t have found any of that working for this particular startup, and I wish my brain would move on, already.

(Photo: "Soylent Drink" by Mike Mozart. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)