Thriving After Rejection

Dissatisfaction. Disappointment. Failure. Rejection. These are “facts of life” for people on Planet Earth. In fact, if you don’t experience some of these feelings, some of the time, you probably aren’t fully engaged in the exciting activities of living.

So the goal should not be to avoid these devastating feelings, but rather to be sure and make a comeback afterwards. As the saying goes: “Get knocked down seven times, get up eight.”

Dissatisfaction, disappointment, failure and rejection all deserve some attention, of course. But in this piece, I’m going to focus on rejection.

Being the social animals that we are, rejection is a feeling that’s hard-wired into fear and feeling bad. Almost no one is comfortable with rejection, which is a big reason that “shunning” and “I’m not talking to you” are among the worst punishments society and individuals can mete out.

But since you cannot avoid a certain amount of rejection in your work and your life, it’s helpful to find a way not only to survive afterwards, but to thrive.

Here are some ideas:

The Only Thing We Have to Fear….

The key to thriving after rejection is to defuse as much of the fear associated with it as possible.

To start reducing the intensity of the fear you experience as a result of rejection, you must learn to:

Roll with Rejection

Here, the term “roll with” has two separate but equally important meanings:

  1. Roll with rejection in the sense that it’s a natural, unavoidable part of your work and your life. Stop thinking you can sidestep all rejection and take it as it comes, just another part of the cost of working and living.
  2. Roll with rejection in the same sense that a martial arts fighter doesn’t resist an attack, but instead yields ground, absorbs its energy, and redirects that energy into his or her next move.

See the Rejection for What It Is

You may feel that you are the center of everything, but many – if not most – of the rejections sent your way have little or nothing to do with you personally. People say “no” for a thousand reasons that have nothing to do with you, or with what you are seeking. Search your own feelings and you’ll know that you do this to others, too.

But rejections do hurt, for several reasons:

  • They’re a clear signal we’re not going to get what we want this time around.
  • They trigger negative feelings on an instinctual level.
  • They add up. A single rejection may hurt only a little, but as you accumulate more and more rejections in a given period of time, each one begins to hurt more.

There’s also an extra layer of “hurt” associated with a rejection that comes from someone important, or someone you care about, particularly when compared with perfunctory rejections from total strangers. In general, the stronger your emotional involvement, the greater your pain from rejection.

Recognize Your Sensitivity to Rejection

Not all rejections are created equal. A casual and polite rebuff from a stranger is normally far less hurtful than a sudden and disdainful rejection from a lover, a close friend, or a family member.

Take a few minutes to think about the various categories of people in your life, and how much pain you feel (or might feel) from a rejection by a typical person in each group.

This exercise helps you recognize the differences in your reactions to rejections from difference sources. It also helps you get past your instinctual emotional reaction to a rejection and shift the source of that reaction more toward the thinking side of your brain.

Reframe Rejection

Having done all this thinking and feeling, you can begin to reframe raw rejection into a relatively impersonal interaction that’s not directed solely at you, and that you can experience with significantly less pain and fear than before.

As you continue working toward understanding and reframing the rejections you experience, at some point you’ll recognize that rejection – like traffic on the highway or frustration when you’re learning something new – is just an expected part of normal work and life. In fact, it’s “a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”

By recognizing this, you reposition yourself with regard to rejection. You can begin to react to rejection more like that martial arts fighter: converting and redirecting the negative energy of rejection into positive motivation and effective actions that drive you more directly toward your goals.

You’ll find that fear is not a good enough reason for hunkering down and sheltering from the possibility of rejection. In fact, fear is sometimes a good basis for testing your limits and expanding your capabilities. This is because courage is proof not of the absence of fear, but of the willingness to press forward despite fear. However much or little courage you feel now, you can exercise to increase your tolerance for fear and your ability to thrive after rejection.

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