While success gurus tell us all about the 20 ways to conquer our fears and another 30 to achieve our goals, there are those sneaky 100 that can make us trip and fall flat on our faces. Not too many people talk about that. So when we do stumble and fall, it takes us by surprise and shock, even. We feel indignant, wronged and eventually angry and accusatory about it. At some point, we make peace with it, but with some part of us wilted and eroded in the process.
Exclusion, rejection and ridicule are a pandemic in our world today. Lack of curiosity and awareness, protective attitudes and unwarranted fears drive most of it. It hurts as we experience rejection in any shape or form. None of us are immune to it, and all of us can do with better strategies to cope with it. Me included.
When we aren't being curious, we are working on assumptions and what we already know. What we know doesn't always serve us well in new situations, so there is always room to be more curious.
Rejection is very personal, even when it's not. Sometimes, it really is the other person and not you! It doesn't help that there is a minefield of opportunities to get rejected. We fall in love and get rejected, propose and get rejected, apply for jobs and get rejected, apply to colleges and get rejected, apply to rent a home and get rejected, try and get published and get rejected, ask for the moon and get rejected, and so on. You get the point.
Now reading these bunch of rejections might have already put you in a not-so-great frame of mind. That means you'll get the rest of this much better. If you were in a successful kind of mood you might not have really paid as much attention. The human mind latches on to negative information so much better than it does to the positive. Unfortunately.
On a serious note, all of us have failed and been rejected, without an exception. Like everyone else, I get turned down when I make requests, and at times, none of my experience or smarts get me through. I've thought a lot about how I want to choose and then process failure and rejection in a way that keeps my initiative, enthusiasm and drive intact, while not dismissing genuine feedback to improve my skills.
I can't avoid failure all together, but I can respond to it better each time because that's in my control.
After reflection, I came up with 6 reframing opportunities, hope you find them useful. Do comment and write back if you find this relatable.
#1 It's not personal
Believe it or not, rejection is not as personal as it seems in that moment. The nature of the word 'No' is such that it almost always seems like a dagger through our hearts. Yet, there are impersonal reasons for it to happen. This is not to rationalise every failure and protect oneself, but it genuinely might not have anything to do with us. Often, a job application gets rejected not so much because of the person you are, but because of the way it was written or presented didn't appeal to the hiring manager or our skills just didn't match up in comparison to someone else's. What if the application was missed in the process and didn't get opened on time to consider us perhaps? Sad and shoddy, but still not personal. Let's say the hiring manager dumped your resume because of a foreign sounding name, still not personal. How about if you felt empathy for the recruiter who has limited their options and can't do their best for their customer. Disregarding competent candidates will eventually catch up with their performance. Their long-term loss, not yours. What a relief you didn't get stuck in the middle of a prejudiced workplace.
#2 No one is debating our self-worth
In intimate situations, hearing a 'No' is really hurtful. Even so, our worthiness is not up for debate and scrutiny. Let's say, we didn't end up with the person we were smitten by and someone else won over their heart. Even this seems utterly personal, but is not. Love is fickle and doesn't follow rules, unfortunately. No scientist has been able to write out a formula for chemistry between two people. With something as hard to pin down as falling in and out of love, it's painful how so many of us find it gut wrenching in the most dramatic sense. While we don't have to deny ourselves the process of grieving over a lost relationship, hopefully, we can remember through the tears and tissue boxes that this is not about our self-worth, though it definitely feels like it. The relationship just didn't click. Focus on instead that you were saved from eventual sadness because they weren't the one and it's great you didn't discover that after 30 years. Set the person free and get a dog, and other such wise stuff. Unless of course, we are a horrible person who treated someone shabbily, in which case, yes, it's our fault!
#3 One rejection is not predictive of another
I remember fearing the next interview when I flunked a previous one. Even though it followed no logic. I had cleared all interviews for fourteen years straight that I ever appeared for. I held that personal record for ages until one day, it got broken, as all records do. I promptly forgot my past successes, and recalled that one failure when I applied for my next job. Thankfully, I was able to shake that feeling off before I appeared for the interview and was my usual calm, sorted and alert self. I cleared that interview in one go just like I used to. In hindsight, I know the one I failed at wasn't my best day. I didn't do everything I could have done and made a half-hearted attempt because I wasn't sure I wanted that job or liked those people. I knew that right after the interview. My skills weren't sharp that day, but I was still the same competent person. Important lesson, loss of any kind does not predict the quality of the next experience. Let's be more thankful for the good than spend time lamenting the bad. Improve if you have to, but don't waste time regretting who you are. You are just fine.
#4 Most feedback is about our skills, and not about our heart and soul
We aren't being declined, our request in that moment by that particular person or people is being declined. This is a huge difference we need to notice. The most unwanted pain comes from confusing feedback on our skills with feedback on our self-worth and how deserving we might be of good things in life. Honestly, no one on God's green Earth has the right to decide what we deserve or don't. To think in those terms is really cruel to ourselves. Also, we are such complex beings that for someone to give us overarching feedback that encompasses all of who we are is impossible to pull off. Doesn't happen, so let's not worry about it. How terrible if we are willingly offering our power to people who might have declined our request, but not negated who we are. So let's stop and think next time our request is rejected. It was just a request.
#5 The mind is a mischievous place
Years ago, I came upon fascinating research on persuasion and influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini. He spoke about how marketers take advantage of the fact that we remember and respond much quicker to negative information about loss and failure, than we do to positive information of gain and success. The mind is hardwired to keep us alert to dangers and perils of everyday life, but our ancient brain hasn't caught up to the fact that we aren't living in caves anymore under constant threat from predators and competitors. We continue to act as if we'll perish and respond to negative information with passion and speed. The brain is just not helpful when it comes to rejections. With awareness, we could make it listen to us better. For example, you could tell yourself when you fail that this experience is about to take more airtime than it deserves. You are better off listening to your favourite music or cooking a great dish or giving a long hug to someone you love. Doing this all together is potent, mind you!
#6 Other people's limitations and worldviews are not your problem
You are not responsible if someone could not see through their bias and honour your competence or find in themselves the inclusivity and smartness to see through their own prejudice. That's not on you. To be at the receiving end of rejection that seems really unfair and uncalled for sounds and feels very personal. You did everything right, and yet, you weren't the one holding up the trophy. Still not personal. You can choose to provide feedback or take it up through the right channels, but hopefully, the experience does not evoke doubts over your worthiness or acceptability. Feel free to vent your frustration over some wine, but don't let it fester and simmer as a personal failure. It's not. What might be more productive is if we empathised with the other person for their lack of education and awareness to promote merit. At the very least, you can validate yourself as having the grace and awareness to understand the experience and not let it affect you the next time you step into our unequal and not-so-fair world.
Rejection is rarely personal, though it seems very personal every single time. Hopefully, reading through the above might help you reframe it the next time you find yourself at the receiving end of it.