You asked your boss for a raise and were turned down. You submitted a poem for publication and it was rejected. You asked someone for a dance and they said no. You asked a friend for help and they said they were too busy. Rejection: we all experience it, but we react to it differently. With some, rejection is perfectly harmless, like water off a duck’s back. Yet, for others, it serves as an excuse to wallow in dejection.
The subject of rejection is important because if we allow it to hurt us, it effectively clips our wings, stunts our growth, and makes further progress impossible. So, let’s explore its nature and how to overcome it.
Depending on the circumstances, rejection can be excruciatingly painful. Why is that? Think back to our primitive ancestors. Their very survival depended on membership in a group. Together they could ward off enemies, come to the aid of those in danger, and work as a team to hunt for or gather food. Under such circumstances, ostracism was equivalent to being condemned to death.
Today, the need for group membership may not be as strong as it once was. Yet, it is hard to imagine life without being a member of a group. Without it we wouldn’t have a job, family, or friends. So, it is not surprising that rejection can be a source of anxiety, fear, and pain.
Living with Rejection without Dejection
In today’s complicated world, rejection of some sort is inevitable. But it need not lead to dejection. The best protection is to understand and accept that not everyone will like us. Yes, even saints and heroes have enemies. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact of life, so we need to accept it.
Here’s a personal example. I do full day professional development seminars for corporate executives who grade my performance at the end of the day. One day I received the following evaluation:
“Would not attend a course taught by Chuck again, not a good teacher. Course was a waste of time and money.”
ow would you feel with such an evaluation? How did I feel? Well, I realized that we cannot please all the people all the time, so I did not rush to judgment. Instead, I looked at the other comments, most of which agreed with the following samples:
“Presenter was great.”
“Loved the discussion.”
“Very animated/enthusiastic instructor.”
“Very entertaining, examples of our various/practical life issues.”
“I have been able to see the great benefit of using the right spirit to resolve conflicts.”
“Course was very interesting, I was expecting something a bit different but nevertheless I feel that I learned some new things for my own personal growth.”
That particular seminar was the first and only time I received such harsh criticism. But I wasn’t surprised because I am armed with the knowledge that I cannot please everyone. In fact, what I find surprising is that I haven’t experienced more rejection.
Why would the seminar attendee reject me so strongly? Was it because he was nasty? Not at all. Rejection isn’t about us, but about the person who is rejecting us. In my seminar I may have given an example of someone doing the wrong thing, which the attendee took personally and became offended. Perhaps even more likely is the possibility that a painful childhood memory was triggered by my presence. For example, he may have been scolded by his father when a child and something about my appearance, gestures, or speaking style may have triggered that memory causing him to unconsciously reject me. Or, it could be due to any number of other reasons. The specific reason is unimportant. The point to bear in mind is that no matter how careful or sensitive we are, it is impossible to please all people all the time. In other words, a certain amount of rejection is normal. If you accept this principle, you will be less likely to be hurt. On the other hand, if you believe rejection is not normal, you will be intensifying the pain of rejection.
Why is rejection so prevalent? In today’s society we have many people vying for the same opportunity. Many clerks may want to become a supervisor; many supervisors, a manager; many managers, a department head, and many department heads, a vice president. Yet, there may be just one position that many wish to fill. Not all athletes can win the Gold Medal; some will be rejected. So, rejection is both normal and inevitable. Expect it and adapt to it because it’s a part of life.
However, just because we are rejected in one area doesn’t mean we will be rejected in all areas. If we can’t beat the competition, we can seek another opportunity or create our own. Also, when someone says no, perhaps it is not a rejection, but a request for more information.
The pain of rejection, by the way, is not necessarily bad. First, it’s a sign that you care and are doing your best, for if you didn’t care about your performance, you wouldn’t care about what others thought of you. Second, it demonstrates that you are taking risks and pushing your limits. Third, rejections provide the contrast that allows us to relish our successes all the more. Fourth, it can provide a learning experience that will guide us back to the path of success. Fifth, we can view it as the gatekeeper that permits no one but the worthiest candidate to pass, and accept the challenge and make ourselves worthy.
Examples of Famous People Being Rejected
The following examples of famous people being rejected demonstrate that rejection is normal and the solution is to just keep going.
1. J.K. Rowling, the first person earning enough from writing books to become a US dollar billionaire, was rejected by a dozen publishers. It wasn’t until the eight-year old daughter of the CEO of a small London publisher begged her father to print the book that Harry Potter saw the light of day.
2. Michael Jordan in his own words: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
3. Elvis Presley: in 1954 Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after one performance and told him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
4. Irving Stone. After being rejected 16 times and described as “A long, dull novel about an artist,” Stone’s Lust for Life went on to sell 25 million copies.
5. Oprah Winfrey, Queen of TV, was fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV.”
6. Winston Churchill failed the Royal Military entrance exams twice.
7. Margaret Mitchell. Her novel, Gone With the Wind was rejected by 38 publishers before it was picked up.
8. George Bernard Shaw only made $20 from his writing in his first nine years.
9. Muhammad Ali graduated 376th in his high school class of 391.
Tips on Overcoming the Crippling Effects of Rejection
1. Be honest with yourself. Can you climb out of the doldrums of rejection under your own power or do you need the help of a professional therapist? If you need help, get it.
2. Stop viewing others with suspicion, for it is the cancer of friendship. Here’s how Ben Jonson (1573~1637) described the poison of suspicion, “A new disease? I know not, new or old, but it may well be called poor mortals plague for, like a pestilence, it doth infect the houses of the brain till not a thought, or motion, in the mind, be free from the black poison of suspect.”
When we believe others are going to like us, we act warmly towards them and as a result they like us more. But if we suspect others aren’t going to like us, we act coldly and they don’t like us as much. Psychologists call this the ‘acceptance prophecy’ phenomenon. That is, if we accept others, they will accept us, so our belief in their acceptance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
3. It is time to rely on the power of rational thought instead of succumbing to your fears, suspicions, and self-doubt. True, if you try to make friends, you MAY be rejected or betrayed, but if you don’t make friends, you WILL be lonely. Life requires risk taking, and we need to take risks to experience excitement, adventure, and growth. Besides, I can guarantee that you will lose 100% of the chances you refuse to take. Remember, too, that continually trying to protect yourself from rejection drains energy that is needed to develop positive attitudes and behavior.
4. What color is an apple? Red? Green? Yellow? The answer is it is white! Yes, the skin may be red or another color, but it is paper thin and represents an insignificant portion of the apple. People are similar. We may be quick to conclude that they are untrustworthy or nasty. But aren’t we just looking at their skin? If we took the time to probe more deeply, we may discover that cold, aloof person is just shy, and that person who is avoiding us is doing so because we treat them with suspicion. It’s time to lighten up and give others the benefit of the doubt. People will either rise or sink to our expectations. If we think nothing of them, why are we surprised they think nothing of us? Consider our behavior from all angles. For instance, when we refuse to get close to others to avoid pain, we appear cold and distant to them, thereby making rejection much more likely to happen.
5. Consider a change of attitude, such as this one by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803~1882), “Dear to us are those who love us…but dearer are those who reject us as unworthy for they add another life; they build a heaven before us whereof we had not dreamed, and thereby supply to us new powers out of the recesses of the spirit, and urge us to new and unattempted performances.” In other words, embrace rejection as an opportunity to spread your wings, rise to the occasion, and make yourself a better person. Don’t let rejection beat you down for you were made for better things.
6. Accept people as fallible. They are imperfect. Why do we look at their appearance and judge them falsely. Don’t we realize they feel just as insecure as us? People express their insecurity differently. Some try to protect themselves from pain by avoiding others. And some wear a mask, pretending to be confident. If we knew their true feelings, instead of feeling threatened by them, we would feel compassion for them. Once we forget about our own petty needs and concern ourselves with the needs of others, our world of fear, suspicion and mistrust will shatter and come tumbling down. In its place will be a world of love, peace, cooperation, and joy. To ignore the needs of others is bad enough, but to deny ourselves of our inheritance is tragic.
7. We become what we think about. If we are always thinking about how untrustworthy people are, our demeanor, body language, and looks will drive others away. After driving them away, we then accuse them of rejecting us. It’s time to change what we are thinking about. Start thinking how wonderful it would be if everyone got along. Start thinking about the insecurity and pain that others feel. Start asking yourself what we can do to make the world a better place. When you change your thoughts, your feelings and behavior will change. When they change, the results of your actions will change. It’s all within our power, so let’s start on this project today.
8. Look for shining examples of people who are trustworthy and caring. We always find what we look for. But the trouble is we often look for evidence that people are untrustworthy, which blinds us to most of the good that is going on around us.
9. We have to give away what we wish to receive. That is, it is only by trusting others that we will win their trust. We have a need to be accepted by others. But when meeting others for the first time, instead of seeking their approval, offer yours. Accept them for who they are. You see, they are just as much in need of approval as we are. And when we accept others, they will come to accept us. It may take a while because at first they may be suspicious and feel threatened by us. But over time they will come to trust us and open up. The key to remember is our success always begins with us. We have to make the first move. Why shouldn’t we? That’s the mark of a leader. We want to be a leader, don’t we?
10. People don’t ask themselves empowering questions often enough. Don’t make that mistake. Questions can unlock a great deal of power. Ask yourself questions such as, “Would I rather be safe and unhappy or grow through pain, take risks, and enjoy life? Would I rather be a victim or a glorious champion? Do I have a right to complain about life if I’m unwilling to change it? Who or what is in charge of my life — am I driven by fear or guided by rational thought? What inspiring books have I recently read — and if I haven’t read any, why am I neglecting my mental health?
11. Were you ever afraid that if you were rejected, you wouldn’t be able to handle the pain? Don’t allow such a thought to enter your mind because it is a fallacy. We are all equipped with the inner resources to cope with everything that comes our way. But the trouble is many people treat their inner resources as they do their home gym. It just stands there gathering dust. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your inner power. And if you have been doing so, don’t get discouraged, it doesn’t get rusty and fall apart. It is always available. Just call upon it by making a commitment to make the necessary changes in your life.
12. Tame your self-talk. Keep it positive, for if our inner critic is stronger than our resilience, than we will stall on our path to success.
13. Follow the example of Sylvester Stallone who said, “I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”
14. “When you make a mistake or get ridiculed or rejected, look at mistakes as learning experiences, and ridicule as ignorance. Look at rejection as part of one performance, not as a turn down of the performer.” (Denis Waitley)
16. Make a list of all the risks you would take if you were not afraid. Next, imagine trying all and being rejected the majority of times. Now imagine how wonderful you will feel for the one or two breakthroughs you will have gained. This should be enough to spur you on to action.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!: The Art of Dealing with Rejection by Elayne Savage
RESILIENCE: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success by Mark McGuinness
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.