I’ve been rejected a lot in my life. Chances are, you can also relate.
There’s something about rejection that makes us afraid of taking chances and, strangely enough, being ourselves.
How is it that two words from someone else, even someone we have no connection to, impacts us to the point of self-judgment?
Perhaps it was a rejection letter from a company where you were really hoping to work. Or maybe that book manuscript you’ve been working on for the past four years got rejected by a third publishing company.
Whatever it is, the truth is this: Rejection hurts.
When we get rejected concerning something we care about, it makes us want to sink into a little hole in the ground, only to be seen again once there’s sign of daylight. We want to draw everything around us that feels comfortable and safe.
While we want to be reminded that we’re not crazy or wrong—therefore being validated in our feelings—it’s also important to look at rejection realistically as the multifaceted thing that it is.
The truth is rejection makes us better people, better entrepreneurs, and better professionals. When presented with rejection, we must look at it as a learning experience—that is, not feeling sorry for ourselves or down about what could have been, but actively figuring out why we got rejected and considering what we can change to improve our odds of acceptance.
How do you handle the times you get rejected? Are they with deflection? Anger? Sadness?
Or do you step back and think, What’s the takeaway for me here?
My advice is to not become hardened just because of something one person at a company said, which they maybe didn’t even mean.
It’s from these instances that we learn what we’re really made of. When your back’s against the wall, do you crumble? Or do you hold yourself up, certain of your worth and assertive of your place?
Rejection can actually be great in the long run, showing you what you do need in order to attain your goals. You can gain more confidence, shift your perspective, and develop as an individual.
There are certain things we can learn only from being rejected. Learning to see rejection as a blessing in disguise is one way to remove the fear that we often associate with it.
We can do everything in the world to try and keep rejection at bay, but we’ll just cloak ourselves from life’s serendipitous opportunities that typically come only when we’re not worrying about rejection.
There’s a TED Talk by Jia Jiang called “What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection.” Jiang starts his talk out with a story he vividly remembers of his elementary days: His teacher asked the six-year-olds to bring in presents and compliment each other for one class period.
During this “experiment,” young Jiang cheered heartily for the others, watching them take their seats and receive their presents one by one.
However, as time passed, he was left standing with two other children. He awaited the applause and cheers, but they never came. Eventually, the teacher—a bit embarrassed for the three kids—asked them to take their seats.
Fast forward a few years. Jiang, as a working professional, was reflecting back on a letter he wrote to his family at 14 years old, stating that by age 25 he would build the largest company in the world that would buy Microsoft.
But he hadn’t acquired the company. In fact, he didn’t own any company. He felt stuck as a marketing manager for a Fortune 500.
So he started to think there must be a better way than ignoring his dreams. Internally, he knew the reason behind his lack of progress was due to the experience he had as an elementary student.
As he says in his talk, every time he thought of achieving something, “that six-year-old won.” He purposely didn’t put himself in situations so he could avoid any chance of being rejected, accounting for why many of his aspirations were still only that—aspirations.
To change his outlook, he started doing a challenge called “100 Days of Rejection,” in which you intentionally put yourself in situations that are basically asking for rejection.
For instance, for one of his first “days of rejection,” he timidly asked a McDonald’s worker for a “burger refill” (which McDonald’s doesn’t have, of course. No one even knows what a “burger refill” is—but why not a burger refill if there’s a drink refill, right?).
With each day of rejection, he worked up more and more confidence, up to the point where he knocked on one of his neighbor’s doors with an uprooted flower in hand, asking whether or not he could plant it in their yard.
After doing this challenge even over the 100-day mark, he came across some interesting findings. People were actually willing to go out of their way to help him, and when he vocalized that his propositions were a bit strange or awkward, people became more open and accepting.
In the case of planting the flower in his neighbor’s yard, he didn’t get rejected because his neighbor thought he was weird—he got rejected because the neighbor said his dog would just end up eating it. So he directed Jiang to a woman in the neighborhood who was happy to accept the flower.
It goes to show that rejection usually isn’t what we think it is. On the outside, it may look like our character is being judged; however, there’s typically always a fair reason for it.
Though we tell ourselves to run from rejection, by trying to avoid it, we’re doing more harm to ourselves than good. Going through rejection warms our muscles up to it, and it’s just a simple reality of this world. Rejection happens. But what we may think of as a judgment of our character may actually be a reasonable decision.
We don’t like to admit it, but sometimes we’re just not ready for the goals we’re trying to achieve.
Consider how, when I first started freelancing, I was applying to high-level content writing jobs. I didn’t have a lot of experience in the field, and I knew when applying to these jobs that I would likely get rejected. But I took the chance anyway because I wanted to see what would happen.
It has nothing to do with my character that I got rejected.
It’s just that I don’t have the experience needed, the required skills, or the seniority that proves that I’m capable of excelling in these jobs.
These are factors of reality that must be accepted.
Not everyone wants to admit that they need tons of experience to get a certain job—I didn’t even want to admit that for a long time. But that’s the fact of the matter. Is it always the case? Of course there are exceptions, but most professionals are looking for a certain level of experience and some signs that show you’re qualified.
It’s important to keep that in mind when you’re making yourself available to opportunities that may be outside of your expertise, skill set, or knowledge.
It’s great to take risks—healthy risk-taking should be encouraged—but do recognize those opportunities as risks, and consider the possibility that what you’re hoping for may not come to pass.
If it’s an opportunity you really want to be considered for, it’s important to build your experience around that. Take some classes. Look into some side hustles.
When you’re working toward a long-term goal, more than likely you won’t let the fact that you’ve been rejected 200 times keep you from doing it. When something is set in your heart, not being able to have it typically makes you want it even more.
So don’t give up. Rejection is there to guide you toward excellence, so that you can define what exactly excellence and success mean to you. We can learn only by actively questioning and laying out our specific goals and dreams and, typically, it’s the difficult situations in life that bring us to doing that.
There’s a certain kind of thickening of the skin that comes with getting rejected. Sure, stressors that happen out of our control thicken our skin, but rejection in particular has its own way of getting us.
Maybe your memories of rejection aren’t your fondest, but more likely than not, there’s something you took away from those experiences.
Think about it now: When was the last time you got rejected? Did you learn from it?
Going back to my attempts to board high-level editing and writing jobs, you may have guessed I didn’t get accepted to any one of them (after all, it’s the subject of this article).
For a few of those jobs, I heard nothing back. For several others, I got that well-known response: “Thank you for your interest in working with XYZ. We’ve thoroughly reviewed the applicants and, after careful consideration, have decided not to move forward with your application. We wish you the best of luck in your job search.”
You can tell I’ve gotten a few of those because I wrote that without looking back at an example.
When I was a teenager, getting one of those letters meant that I wasn’t worth being considered as an employee. So I sunk into my room and wallowed until a few days later, when I would finally get the courage to apply to one more position.
In the real world, and especially as working professionals, we don’t quite have the time to wallow in our self-pity. Sure, it’s fine to grieve—especially if you really cared about whatever you got rejected for—but we can’t stay in that space forever.
Learning this as I grew up, I realized how much better it was not to stay stuck because I got rejected for one thing. By continually putting myself out there, even if it felt like I was sabotaging myself after all the rejection I received in the past for the same exact thing, I opened myself up to amazing opportunities.
By deciding to put myself out there again, even if to give it “just one more try,” I granted myself access to things I never even thought were possible.
Rejection also taught me this: Sometimes you need to modify something to make it more accessible.
For instance, if you’re trying to publish a book, but publishing companies keep rejecting your proposal, consider their wisdom. They have years of experience in the field, and it’s likely not that they think you’re a bad writer or that your story, especially in its entirety, is awful.
You may only need to change the way you’re framing the story or flesh out the plot more. Or maybe your characters need more development.
In these cases, it’s always best to ask for clarity. If a publishing company or fellow professional critiques your work, ask for details if they’re willing to provide them. Ask them what they think needs to be addressed. Ask them if there were specific instances where they felt the story lost momentum.
Then, take those ideas and see if they make sense for your story. Assess whether you need to run with their suggestions. You don’t need to do absolutely everything in the exact way they advise, but do consider that they know a thing or two about what they’re talking about.
In the end, it will be sure to improve your writing abilities and skill at self-assessing—and, of course, increase the likelihood that you see that wonderful “Congratulations!” in your inbox.
I think that we build rejection up to be this bully who no one wants around. He’s just bound to make us feel terrible about ourselves and pick on everything little thing.
While I understand that sentiment, I believe that rejection is what we make of it. It’s OK to feel uncertain and to feel whatever rejection makes you feel, but it’s nothing to wallow in. There are opportunities awaiting you beyond that initial dismay.
Rejection can help us grow. It can show us what we need to improve in ourselves. It can remind us that we still have some learning to do. Or maybe all we need to do is go through a few more stages of development, and our writing project is ready for the world.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. Because, as we all know, we work hard and we care deeply about our work. In everything we care about, we’re putting forth effort and intention.
So don’t let rejection make you question yourself or doubt your writing abilities. Although you’ll always have to face it, it’s something you can learn from. And even if you discover that you’re not ready to proceed toward your bigger dreams yet, at least you’ll have an idea of what to do moving forward toward your smaller goals.
Stephanie Guarino is a recent BA graduate of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa where she majored in Media and Communications. Recently, she has returned to the Chicagoland area to work as a full-time freelancer of editing and writing. She has edited for ebooks and blogs, and has had her work published in a quarterly poetry magazine.