There are few experiences more demoralizing than rejection. Whether it involves romance, employment, academia or other pursuits, we all want to be valued and included. Opening up and showing vulnerability is to risk rejection, and we like to believe that doing so will work out in the end. Believing that everything will work out for the better is certainly uplifting, but a dogmatic adherence to this end is not something that is helpful to anyone (see earlier articles).
What is there, if anything, to be learned from rejection? Looking superficially, perhaps rejection is an opportunity or a wake-up call to better ourselves or the fruits of our labour. Tunnel vision is a powerful thing and it’s possible that we cannot see our own flaws until someone else turns us away for them. The obvious assumption that underlies this lesson is that every rejection is made for a good, demonstrable reason. This assumption is hardly a universal truth: people and things are rejected for all kinds of reasons. We can see, therefore, that assuming that the blame lies with us after a rejection is not only specious, it can be particularly damaging. If the universe itself lacks order, why should the very human decision to reject someone or something be viewed with uniformity?
Another possibility is that the very experience of being rejected teaches us something. I happen to go to school with a phenomenally talented group of people. These are individuals who, for the most part, have achieved everything (or nearly) that they set out to achieve. For all of their wisdom and genius, many of them have not learned how to fail. I realize that sounds silly – who wants to LEARN how to be rejected or to fail? The short answer is that no one does. However, knowing how to deal with rejection and the cognitive processes that are helpful (and those that are not) are tremendously crucial skills. The stark fact is, existence is full of failures and disappointments. The more talented among us can be seen as avoiding most of them, but doing so comes at the price of inexperience. I have always viewed with suspicion the maxim that “what does not kill you makes you stronger”, but I must admit that it rings true with many hardships. Rejection is one of them and it will never be mastered until it has been experienced.
Does everyone experience rejection in the same way? Just as no two people experience any event in exactly the same way, rejection is a fundamentally subjective experience. What is also interesting is how susceptible we are to some forms of rejection over others. I have friends who dealt with being rejected for summer legal positions particularly hard. On the contrary, I was pissed off for about half a day and then promptly forgot about it. Those same friends treat romantic breakups and turn-downs (seemingly) with a poise and apathy that makes me envious. Conversely, I treat romantic breakups and being rejected in relationships with enormous gravity and hardship. It’s obviously difficult to place objective value on what types of rejection we should take more seriously. I suppose the only thing that can be known objectively is that rejection and its effects do not take a “predictable” path for anyone. You may even find that an anticipated rejection is not nearly as difficult in actuality as it was in preparation. At other junctures, a rejection that you never anticipated as being substantial ends up being devastating.
Once you have experienced it, is there any right way to deal with being rejected? As above, no. That seems daunting, but it should instead be viewed as uplifting. It is uplifting because one, single solution to any hardship is, by definition, alienating. It also means that we have the freedom to think that even the little comforts can bring us to recovery. Despite the mythologizing that we do about our internal struggles and their dramatic solutions, rarely do we ever get over anything in a single, grand action. It IS the little things, the small comforts and the tiny rays of happiness that add up to something great and beautiful – recovery and true growth. The same is true for even the most bitter of rejections. Reflection on all of our victories is also essential. I very much doubt that anyone reading this can honestly say that their entire life has been all rejection and no acceptance. Just as a misspelling of a word on a final paper does not define a paper, one rejection (or even many) does not define a life or the way in which it was lived.
I feel like I have preached on and on for a long enough time at this point. I think that this blog and what has been talked about within are very much things that I am experiencing in the present…in the here and now. It’s a stressful time for me on all fronts and rejection has made this stress all the more potent. I guess that, looking back, I wish now that some of the heartache and rejection had never occurred. At the very same time, however, I cannot begin to describe how glad I am that they did.