The Rewards of Rejection

It’s totally natural to avoid rejection and seek out acceptance, just as it’s natural we prefer to eat sweetness and spit out bitterness. Unfortunately, rejection is a fairly commonplace event most of us are likely to encounter many more times than we’d like.

It feels bad, of course, to lose out or be sent away. But rejection need not be entirely negative. There are ways we can derive at least some positive value from most of the rejections that await us. You just have to know where to look.

Here are some of the rewards you can often take away from rejection:

Rejections Save You Time

One of the smartest bits of advice for people on dating sites is simply this: it’s great to find out right away you’re not compatible with a possible “match” because it saves you all the time (not to mention money and heartache) you’d otherwise invest in getting to know the person before you eventually arrive at the end.

It’s the same in almost every other area of your work and your life. Getting rejected from a job, a client, a project, an organization, or anything else may feel bad in the moment, but it also saves you a ton of time and energy you would otherwise invest in what’s likely to be a lost cause. After all, the rejection you receive in the early days would almost never morph into acceptance. Instead, it would almost certainly just come later, and perhaps even more bitterly.

Rejections Save You from Errors

You can fruitfully think of rejection as something like those “Not a Through Street” signs posted on certain street corners to save you from frustration before you travel any farther down that road.

Think back to some of the mistakes you have already made in your work and your life. Even though you would have felt disappointed at the time, you can probably recognize now that a rejection from any of them early on would have been a big benefit.

Next time you receive a rejection, why not take it as an opportunity to reconsider what’s really going on? There’s a distinct possibility your very next rejection will save you from experiencing something terrible, or from traveling a path that would have otherwise turned out to be unsuitable for you.

For example, when I have proposed a task, project, or goal to a prospect or client and had it rejected, I often wondered whether the rejection was actually saving me from a major SNAFU, a larger disappointment, or even a career debacle that could have carried significant and long-term repercussions. (I’ve almost never had any one of those, so it’s possible my past rejections have actually been quite beneficial!)

We can’t know for sure, but this is a much more positive perspective than simply fuming at or crying over the brush-off.

Rejections Allow Something Better to Happen

Even better than steering you clear of a SNAFU, disappointment, or career debacle, a rejection may open a door to a great opportunity.

For example, I know a woman who was turned down for a job she wanted, and while sitting despondently on a park bench immediately afterwards to consider her options, struck up a conversation with a college administrator who just happened to be looking to hire another teacher. She had the proper qualifications and got the job, which turned into a very satisfying long-term career.

It sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s a true story.

Here’s another one: early in my career, I was rejected from literally dozens of writing jobs for which I applied. With bills to pay, I had no alternative but to try selling individual stories to magazines. I learned how to do it, and I’m very proud that I parlayed that process into a multi-decade career as a writer, manager, consultant, and entrepreneur.

Rejections Offer Important Lessons

Everyone you know was born a delicate baby, and over time suffered what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” These unwanted experiences – many of which are a form of rejection – help us grow toward maturity and learn ways to navigate the world around us.

Just as exposure to germs helps strengthen our immune systems, exposure to rejection teaches us to recognize difficulties and dangers, as well as opportunities. Repeated rejections offer us time and motivation to hone our coping skills, both to recover from setbacks and to capitalize on openings for advancement.

Rejections Boost Motivation and Self-Awareness

If we always got everything we wanted, we’d feel little motivation to improve ourselves, either by honing our knowledge and skills or by looking inward to discover what we value most. For whatever reasons, it seems adversity boosts our motivation and our self-knowledge.

Perhaps even more important, people who always get everything they want tend to become narcissistic, selfish, and insensitive to others. Rejection can be one of the most powerful positive triggers for self-improvement, not only helping us identify our strengths and weaknesses, but also teaching an appropriate level of humility and caring, and leaving time in our daily life to express them.

The good news is this: after recovering from the emotional pain of rejection, you’ll be free to invest your time and energy in the next opportunity that – since the previous one shut you out – almost certainly has a much better chance of paying off.

There’s no question that rejection is bitter. But if you consider these experiences from a broader perspective than how they feel in the moment, they can become more of a bitter medicine that helps you navigate the world more effectively.

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