Whether it’s a job, relationship, social opportunity, or competition, everyone — no matter who they are, has experienced rejection at one time or another.

Darien native Laura Thoren Podesta, a CBS News correspondent, spoke at the Darien Community Association’s monthly women’s luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 4, about rejection.

During her talk, which was called “Embracing Rejection - Lessons on the Word ‘No,” Podesta shared her personal experiences and thoughts on rejection.

The talk was attended by about 80 people and included a question and answer period.

Feeling of disappointment

During her talk, Podesta sent the message that not only is it OK to experience rejection, but it can also be a learning experience, and can even lead to success.

She said she considers rejection her “fuel.”

If the rejections she experienced hadn’t occurred, some of the happiest moments in her life would not exist, she said.

As a reminder of her rejections, she keeps “a very nondescript envelope in my dresser drawer. It’s one of my most important possessions,” Podesta said. “On the front and back of the envelope, I have written down in Sharpie every single major rejection that’s come my way.”

Her list includes: The travel soccer team, her driver’s test, and the names of boys she loved, as well as various colleges she didn’t get into and jobs she didn’t get.

“I was rejected time and time again,” she said.

Rejection, no matter what it’s of, “is a gut punch,” she said. “It makes your heart sink.”

“You really get into this echo chamber in your head. You’re asking yourself, I’ve given it my all. What more can I give?” she said. “I’ve sacrificed, I’ve educated myself, I’ve worked hard to improve and tailor my schedule and even my behavior, and I didn’t get it. I must not be good enough, or I’ve chosen the wrong path. Or, on really bad days, I might even be a failure.”

Then, she said, something “really magical” would happen.

“Each time I was rejected, from what I thought was the very best possible outcome, and the only outcome that would work for me, something even better would happen,” she said.

One of her earliest examples of rejection was being one of just two girls of 75 who did not make the Darien High School field hockey team.

Due to that rejection, she tried out, and made, the school play, and “that became an education in public speaking, which helps me every single day in my career,” she said.

Later in life, she didn’t get the first on-air reporter job for which she applied.

“I thought I had it in the bag,” she said. “It was a small town TV station in Erie, Pennsylvania, just up the road from where I went to college.”

Yet, she said, if she hadn’t been rejected, she would not have become a producer at News 12 Connecticut.

Another time, while working on Channel 7 in Albuquerque, N.M., she was not promoted to a position it had for a weekend anchor.

She ended up, at age 26, getting hired at ABC7 Eyewitness News, which was the number one station, she said.

About Podesta

A 2006 Darien High School graduate, Podesta, 32, who now lives in Manhattan, reports the top stories at CBS News at 4 a.m. She has covered the Mueller investigation, President Trump’s impeachment, and the Parkland shooting. She also won an Emmy Award for coverage on protests in the streets of Chicago.

In 2019, Podesta became the founding anchor of CBS-TV’s Eye on the Day, a webcast that breaks down the top stories of the day in 90 seconds.

A graduate of Carnegie Melon University in Pennsylvania, she now lives in Manhattan with her husband, Sebastian, a former Darien resident, and their 14-month-old son, James.

Dedication

When talking about her career, and how she got where she is today, her hard work and commitment was evident.

“At ABC7, a freelance job, the work would come week by week, depending on which staff reporters were on vacation or were sick or took a holiday,” Podesta said. “That meant saying ‘yes’ to everything.”

Aside from working regular weekdays, she also worked all holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and New Year’s Day.

“Yes, yes, yes. I would just hustle,” she said.

“I would report on protests in the middle of the night and then turn around when they said we need someone for the morning, and I would be back at three in the morning,” she added.

In the winter, she reported in five degree weather with a windchill of negative 15.

Benefits of rejection

Podesta posed the question to the audience:

“Why put yourself out there to be rejected?

Why not stay in a safe cocoon of never trying and never going beyond our limits, and never experiencing that pain?”

When people escape a short-term pain, “the cost is your long-term vision —your goals, your dreams,” she said.

Podesta then localized her talk to her hometown.

“When you grow up in a place like Darien and it seems like everyone’s so successful, it’s easy to feel like a failure, that you’re not doing enough.”

Yet, she said, while diplomas, awards or reaching a particular goal or job is important, “rejections remind us of all the twists and turns in life that brought us here.”

Podesta plans to keep adding to her rejection envelope because “it’s a reminder that some of the best things in my life would not have happened if things had gone ‘right.’”

She said her rejections are “very comforting because I know no matter what’s thrown in my way in the future, I will land on my feet. I’m welcoming those rejections right now. They’re the only reason I’m here today.”

sfox@darientimes.com