The missing breath, the blood pounding in one’s temples, the terrible feelings of inadequacy—these are all common in the aftermath of a rejection. And there are many kinds of rejection: from not landing the job, to break-ups, to those letters stating thanks, but no thanks. Rejections are inevitable, and they seem to tell us we’re not good enough. For instance, in high school I was palpably awkward, and I decided the best course of action to woo an older boy I was interested in would be to ask him on a lunch date, point blank. In front of all of his friends. I didn’t speak loudly enough for him to hear me the first time, so I was forced to repeat myself, which caused more of his friends to perk up and listen. And the he laughed. He said: uh no, I don’t think so. And I stood there, under the glow of his friends’ grins, unsure of what to say. I wanted to disappear, or at the very least, move to a different country. Since then, I’ve worked tremendously on my social graces, and although I still consider myself to be an awkward person, I can cope with rejection a little more easily. The following are a few pointers on how to do just that.
1. Don’t Take it Personally
This is easier said than done. But sometimes we can get so caught up that initial feeling of failure and inadequacy that we forget that it’s not us as a person being rejected. Rather, in the case of a job, perhaps it’s our resume that wasn’t on point, or perhaps we have been passed over for more nepotistic reasons. In the case of rejection letters following queries for creative projects, it may simply be the whimsical preference of a publication. Even if our work is at fault, this still does not mean we are bad people. In the case of break-ups, so many things can be at play, including the thoughts and feelings of the other person. Often, it is more about them than it is about us. But even if it was our bad habits that drove someone away, it’s still a matter of something we do, and not who we are. For those of us with low self-esteem, myself included, this can be a hard thing to understand. We might have a tendency to measure our worth with our accomplishments and our lack of rejections. But rejections happen to even the most brilliant among us. J.K. Rowling, for instance, had the first volume in the Harry Potter series rejected twelve times before it was finally published. So repeat the mantra: it’s not about me.
These kinds of rejections are not helpful in the least.
2. Get Some Perspective
So we now know that our rejections wasn’t about us being terrible people, but that still doesn’t help that awful feeling that we might as well hang it up and walk away: from our career, from having a love life, or from fulfilling our creative ambitions. After going on several bad dates, it may be tempting to get just a few cats and call it quits. And it’s okay to sulk, for a time. But it’s also important to get perspective. Is a rejection letter from a college going to completely determine one’s quality of life? Is a failed essay going to get one expelled? Is another bad date really going to signify that one deserves to be alone forever? It may be tempting to think so in the moment, but really, all it means is that one particular person said “no” in one particular circumstance. This is not nearly enough to define the course of our lives. We don’t need to be happy about our rejections, but we also have to give them their realistic magnitude, and usually it’s actually next-to-nothing.
Don’t burn all of your artwork because of one critic.
3. Do Something Nice for Yourself
We often pop the champagne to celebrate our successes, but it’s also important to celebrate our rejections. When that silver lining loses its lustre and looks grey, it’s time to do something nice for ourselves. It’s the same principle as seeing a loved one fail: we feel compassion towards them, so we might treat them with their favourite food, a small gift, a friendly pep-talk, or anything that might bring them cheer. We can do this for ourselves. Of course, there is a disclaimer to use some caution, to make sure that our self-care does not result in indulging damaging behaviours: overspending, binge-eating or drinking, or drug use. Treating ourselves should make us feel better afterwards, not worse. (Feeling guilty is usually a sure sign that we may not have our long-term health in mind.)
My favourite thing to do is pay a bubbly visit to Ducky.
4. Do Something Productive with the Rejections
The negative feelings after a rejection have more power if we keep them secret. We can remove some of the hold it has on us by telling others about it. We could swap rejection stories and have a laugh about them (as long as we make sure it’s not at our expense.) We could write about them in a journal. We can also make our rejections tangible, by writing them down and printing them, or using rejection letters sent to us. We can transform these into projects requiring paper maché or origami. Some people even frame their rejections for everyone to see. Stephen King said he kept his rejection letters impaled on a nail in his bedroom. This takes away their power: they become something mundane — a part of our experience rather than an enormous obstacle.
Make yourself a nice cootie-catcher with that expertly worded letter.
5. Re-Evaluate but Don’t Abandon
Now that the rejection has lost some of its sting, we can look at it unflinchingly and evaluate its merit. Did the person breaking up with us offer anything that may be conducive to our growth or to further relationships? Did the potential boss offer us any feedback? This is a stage where we can objectively examine the claims made by our rejectors to see if we can use them to our advantage. (Of course, if someone tells us “You are bad, and you should feel bad,” we should probably just disregard them.) We can tweak our approach but we don’t need to give up. It may just be a few things that we can correct that will make all the difference in the future. But this remains our decision. All feedback we may receive is not equally constructive, and it is up to us to decide whether we want to implement it or not.
I’ll jot down some good ideas in my notebooks, but ultimately I decide if I’m making any changes.
Next time you receive a rejection, make sure to remind yourself that you’re still a good person. Often, the rejection isn’t even about you, anyways. Make sure you stay the course, do something kind for yourself, and take the power out of the rejection by opening up about it. Whatever you do, don’t give up. If you need some tips on tenacity, see how to foster resilience.