People are afraid of rejection and the disappointment that follows because they believe that rejection is failure. It comes in many forms and shapes; it can be rejection related to a romantic partner, a friendship, or it could be a socially or professionally related rejection. The pain is just the same. The bitter aftertaste the same. The devastation profound. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Like most negative experiences, you can use rejection to your benefit. I know you are there, somewhere out there, hiding in shame, or guilt, or devasting disappointment under your bedcovers, or slouching in front of your laptop, or just mindlessly occupying the couch. Please don’t!
Rejection Is NOT a Form of Failure!
First Things First
Allow yourself some breathing space and make room inside you for this experience. Because you don’t need to fight it- rejection is like a swamp; the more you fight to get out, the more you get drawn in it. Be gentle with yourself because being harsh is not going to lead you anywhere, believe me. Then sit back and observe what valuable lessons you have learned from this experience. Warning! You can learn something only when you intend to.
Lesson #1 You Learn Something about How You Handle Adversity
Rejection is an opportunity to learn something about yourself that you wouldn’t be able to find out about in a different way; it helps you figure out how you handle disappointment. Life has smaller and bigger disappointments. Knowing what is your personal response to them can help you tremendously in the direction of managing your thoughts around disappointment and frustration. After all, our thoughts color the way we feel. So, what do you think about rejection and disappointment? Do you take it personally? Can you step aside and see the situation from a different perspective? Can you assess the way you handle disappointment? Are you devastated or naturally upset? Do you engage in behaviors that promote relaxation, calm, and connection, or do you fall back into unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or drinking or smoking in excess?
Lesson #2 A New Realization
Once you are able to sit with the negative feelings that accompany a rejection, you realize that no matter what, it’s not the end of the world. It’s painful, it hurts, it angers you, it stirs up all kinds of different and unpleasant thoughts and feelings but, at the end of the day, you look back and see that you are still there, holding on tight. And maybe that’s all you need to do- take a rejection for what it is, without magnifying it and without blowing it out of proportions. It’s just one aspect of your life, of your reality. And life goes on.
Lesson #3 You Gain Perspective
Experiencing rejection in frightening and disappointing. Seeing your dreams shatter is not a pleasant experience. Yet at the same time you realize that this was a false dream, something you desired but the circumstances were not ripe, the timing was wrong, it was not meant to be this way. And this perspective allows you to move on to your next dream. After all, it’s not important how many times you fall; what counts is how many times you are able to get up.
Lesson #4 Grieving
The experience of being rejected allows you to make time to grieve. Recent studies show that human tears contain cortisol, the hormone of stress, meaning that once we cry we release stress from our system and we are able to go back to normal. Grieving for dreams and opportunities lost is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength. The human brain needs the break of grieving in order to process the troubling information and store it away properly; otherwise, it gets stuck in the limbic system and becomes a traumatic experience, hindering further progress.
Lesson #5 What Went Wrong
Any rejection is an opportunity to step back and ask ourselves “what did go wrong?” This is a critical question, as it allows us to assess the situation and figure out what went wrong. Even if you wanted this relationship to work and did your best, for example, it failed, because the other person was not committed. Maybe you even saw the signs in the beginning, but because you wanted something different, you wanted so much this relationship to work, you ignored the signs hoping they would disappear and reality would fit your expectations.
Lesson #6 What Was Your Contribution
Most of the times people are faced with rejection, they start blaming the situation, the circumstances, or another person. The most important lesson one can learn from a rejection is to assess fairly and objectively their contribution to it. My friend Emma recently applied to her dream job. She was very nervous about it and spent hours connecting with people who knew about the position, gathering information about the requirements and what the top managers were looking for. She also spent a good deal of time moaning and groaning how she wouldn’t get the job because she’s not lucky and because it’s the type of job that goes to people who know people. In the meantime, she failed to do to simple yet important things: to make a killer CV and portfolio. She didn’t get the job not because she didn’t qualify, but because she put all her energy in the wrong direction. In the end, she went to the interview unprepared. Emma is a smart person and was able to analyze the situation. Soon she realized what was her contribution to the problem. She now has a great job, because this time she learned from her mistake and got fully prepared on what she needed to do to get the job. That brings us to another learning point.
Lesson #7 Make a New Plan
Most people once rejected, they freeze into place, so to speak, they get immobilized and do nothing much. While this may be a sign of grieving, once prolonged it’s a sign of stress. After a rejection, one needs to make a new, amended, and improved plan about how to get to their goal. The plan should be simple enough, but not as simple as “I want to achieve X.” The key is that person moves forward and connects their desire with specific steps leading to it. The other day, a client was complaining to me about a social rejection and not having friends. When I asked her how she spends a typical week, she replied “After work I go home, make dinner and watch TV.” When I probed further to see what activities she includes in order to cultivate relationships and make new friends, I found out that there was nothing in this department. So her plan became to figure out ways to meet people -in activities and interest clubs- and connect with them in small, meaningful ways.
Lesson #8 Explore Opportunities
A rejection is just that- one rejection. It’s not about a life-time sentence to not being able to accomplish what you wish. One way to bypass the mentality rejection = failure = forever, is to actively explore different paths that lead to the same goal or new opportunities. After all, every closed door is an opportunity to open it and discover what’s behind it. Otherwise, you see it as a closed door and you think “but I’m not allowed to get in, what a pity!” It’s a pity only when we deprive ourselves the opportunity to see, explore, and seize other opportunities.
Lesson #9 Personal Growth
Rejection can be transformative. Once we are rejected and feel that we are not where we would like to be, we have a tremendous opportunity before us- to realize all the things mentioned above. To see ourselves in our true colors, perform a self-assessment, realize what we did right and what wrong, forgive ourselves our initial ignorance, recognize our inner wisdom, and arrive at the conclusion that the experience of rejection gave us the gift of growing and, hopefully, becoming a better person.