ADVICE: How Dominic Soh endured 500+ job rejections and now looks for certainty internally, not externally

Dominic Soh once endured 500+ job rejections over 18 months, while working part-time to pay the bills. Today’s he’s a TedX speaker and trainer, ultra-marathon runner and resilience trainer to companies like Google, Intel and Tesla.

In this interview, Dominic shares what resilience means to him, how he overcame various challenges throughout his life and career, and guidance for how others can practice resilience during their own challenges.

  • When are the times in your life when you’ve felt most ‘rejected’? How have they shaped your approach to life and business today?

I guess it was when I was just fresh out of university, struggling with my self-image and self-confidence, not having much credentials to show and not really knowing what to do with my life.

During those times, rejection could come in the form of emails from employers saying that my job application was unsuccessful, people ignoring me or talking over my questions in a networking event or some interviewers showing disdain in their faces the moment I stepped into the interview room and revealing my racial identity.

Over time, I came to realise that rejection is part and parcel of the journey to success. If you haven’t been ridiculed, criticised or rejected, you probably haven’t been doing enough and your goals might not be big enough.

Today I take rejection with a pinch of salt and let it slide like water off a duck’s back.

I had people criticise me for talking about wealth and finances…and then the pandemic and recession hit.

  • From working part-time jobs to make ends meet, to where you are today, in between those periods you exemplified entrepreneurialism and took some significant risks to bring your unique ideas to life. Can you please talk through that process, what you did, and how you mentally approached the challenge of taking risks when you didn’t have much money to work with?

The pivotal moment was when I made the decision and commitment to go all out for my career.

Before that, when I was down in the dumps experiencing hundred of job rejections, I was so desperate that I told my Mum and Dad (when they were in Melbourne for a holiday) that I will take any job – even doing admin work, filing and newspaper delivery.

Most of the time my mum will tell me to relax, slow down and enjoy life. But this time round she literally told me to get my act together by not just aiming to get a job, but to establish a respectable career, because I need to think about not just myself but my future family as well.

From there, I never wanted to disappoint her again.

So I came up with the careers magazine idea with a friend, since we know of many others who were struggling in their job hunt. We started with a blog, gathering insights from all over and interviewed industry professionals.

I remember walking into the office of the student union in The University of Melbourne to pitch our magazine so that the it could be included in their orientation showbags. I only had a digital draft of the magazine in my tablet at that time.

To my surprise, a rep gave me a few minutes of her time, listened to my pitch, scrolled through the draft pages and agreed for the magazine to be included in 500 showbags. I was overjoyed!

I then put together the money I had and borrowed some from my dad to get the print version going. There’s this day when I was doing casual marking for a national exam and I had to excuse myself, head to a cubicle in the bathroom, and send the print order via my phone while sitting on the toilet bowl – because the manager didn’t allow us to check our phones on the job.

Through that magazine we reached more students in other universities – about 3000-4000 in 6 Victorian universities. And I had the chance to conduct careers workshops in two of them.

The takeaway here is to approach life with a can-do attitude.

I was already jobless, so what else is there to lose?

Creating and working out the magazine opened so many doors for me and helped me develop skills which I couldn’t have done if I were to just sit at home all day staring at job websites.

  • How have you gone about defining your purpose? Have you ever had to re-assess and re-define that purpose?

I knew deep down since I was a kid that I wanted to change the world, empower people and fulfil my highest potential.

I knew that if I just went through the motions of life, I would end up on my deathbed having gone through a dull, hollow and mediocre existence – not truly living life to its fullest. And that would be my biggest nightmare and regret.

What helped me is to take “mini existential crises” at regular periods of time. I try to have it at least once a month or quarter.

What this means is that I will sit down, be still and ask myself some very honest and brutal questions.

  • If I were to die tomorrow, would I be happy with my life?
  • Would God be pleased with my life?
  • Am I living out my values, purpose and potential?
  • Am I operating out of love, grace, respect and abundance?
  • Am I really making a difference? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Is this what I really want to do?
  • Do I get things done or do I just talk about things? Do I have substance or am I just fluff?
  • Am I entitled? Am I spoilt? Am I fickle? Do I take things and people for granted?

The whole point of these mini crises is to assess yourself intermittently, so that you can make early adjustments, instead of realising what you’ve missed at the tail-end of your life.

  • Many people are feeling directionless, with sudden changes happening in their life due to COVID-19. What is your advice to re-igniting your purpose or direction during times of challenging or negative mindsets?

I have been delivering resilience and adaptability training for the past 4 years and have been talking about the need to adapt to change and thrive under pressure even before COVID-19 came into the picture.

There are several ways to thrive in these turbulent times.

1. Look for certainty internally not externally.

Most people make the mistake of looking for certainty in their surroundings, in the news, in the government and from what’s going on out there. It’s no wonder why they feel so aimless and disoriented.

Instead, look for the certainty within. While many things in life are uncertain, there are some things in us which we can be certain of:

  • Our values, principles, purpose
  • Our commitment to live our lives to the fullest
  • Our drive to overcome obstacles, to thrive in adversity and to move civilisation forward
  • Our connection to a higher being, a higher intelligence, or to the divine
  • Our decision to choose to thrive, not just survive
  • Our innate resilience to be able to heal, recoup and recover from whatever life might throw at us

2. Take full ownership and responsibility over your situation.

With what’s happening, it’s easy to blame the government, politics, the media, the economy, the conglomerates, etc. But that doesn’t solve any problems.

Instead, make the commitment to take charge and take ownership over your individual situation.

3. Find a way to play your part.

Faith and hope are like a soothing balm for the soul, but they are not a strategy.

Come up with a specific and actionable plan on what you can do about the situation.

If you have lost your job, what kinds of unemployment support can you get? What jobs are available? What industries are hiring? What skills can you offer? How can you put yourself in front of those who are hiring?

If your business has been impacted by the lockdowns, how can you virtualise your products? How can you meet the needs of your customers through virtual means? Can you deliver goods to them? Can you service them via video conferencing? What other value offerings can you create to take advantage of the fact that more people are online now?

And then hold yourself accountable to someone you trust.

4. Feed yourself with quality social and mental input.

Just like healthy foods are essential for a fit and healthy body, you need to watch the mental foods and social input you receive in your life.

Steer clear from depressing news and negative talk. You would also want to spend less time with people who do not inspire, encourage or empower you.

About the expert

Dominic is a TEDx and international speaker who has worked with organisations like Tesla, National Australia Bank, VW and Australia Post to help their staff develop resilience to thrive in periods of change, transitioning and restructuring. He has spoken on the TEDx stage twice, presented in over 12 countries, trained TEDx speakers and award-winning leaders, ran multiple 100km+ ultra-marathons and interviewed high performers like U.S. Navy SEALs, Olympians, fighter pilots, surgeons and Michelin-star chefs. He has also been featured on, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Herald Sun and Some of his other speaking clients include Google, Intel, New York University, University of Copenhagen, Chartered Accountants, Bank of Melbourne, EU Business School and Guinness Enterprise Centre.