Rejection: It sucks, it stings, it hurts. It makes me cry and throw things. And yet we all go through it. No matter your profession (writer, athlete, dog trainer…TO THE STARS!), there’s another person on planet earth chasing the same dream. This is a human dilemma—there are more people than there are slots. Even though it’s mathematically impossible for a human being to go through life without experiencing a big ol’ “NO,” it’s still so damn hard to deal with not making the cut. And let us not forget rejection from friends, boyfriend, girlfriends, even family and that cute little snowballish Bichon Frise who lives down the hall—how come she runs into the arms of every other person in the building and tries to bite off your hand? Because that’s life.
I’d like to take this opportunity to impart a few pearls of wisdom that were passed along to me in many a meltdown when I didn’t get what I wanted.
First off, it’s worthwhile to separate personal and professional rejection (though so often, professional rejection feels very personal). I’m a writer and I’m in grad school. I’ve been rejected a lot. Here’s what I know: “You can’t win everything.” Duh? You’d be surprised how far the mind can drift from this obvious fact when you roll the dice and get a “no.”
Before I get into actual ways to cope with rejection, let me say that I’ve learned a few things about protecting myself from bad news. I don’t tell everyone I know that I’ve applied to an artists’ residency or a poetry contest; that I’ve submitted to such-and-such magazine or applied for such-and-such grant. It’s good to feel proud about the actions you take to put yourself out there and often just completing one of those grueling applications is an achievement itself. But even though rejection is a universal experience and none of my friends would actually think less of me if I didn’t get what I applied for, my ego is less wounded when I don’t have to keep announcing, friend by friend, that, “unfortunately, no, I didn’t get it.”
So how do you comfort yourself when you don’t get it? I think the following rational thoughts help ease my intense bum-out: Again, you can’t everything. This past semester I spent a whole lot of time working on a grant proposal that was not successful. I worked closely with a member of the faculty and when we felt like my draft was complete, I asked her what she thought stood in my way of getting the grant. She said, “Competition.” Ah. That actually helped put things in perspective for me in a big way. It’s not that I suck, and that’s why I didn’t get the grant. It’s a matter of competition. That someone out there may have a project idea that the judges find more compelling than mine. Getting picked is a subjective experience and has to do with the preferences of the individual judges. That helped me detach a great deal from my work.
It isn’t personal.
Next, and forgive me if I get a bit self-helpy, I like the saying I’ve heard, “If not this, something better.” It can feel like the end of the line when we get rejected. If I can’t get in here, I’m not getting in anywhere. This “no” means I have no talent, and no chance. Eh. Not really. Watch out for reverse grandiosity. Thinking you suck—the most—is the same thing as delusions of grandeur. The truth is, you’re right in the mix with everyone else trying to get ahead. And there really are tons of options for us out there. It’s not as dire as we imagine. When I look back on some jobs I didn’t get and think,
Whoa. I can’t believe I wanted to steam clothes for a wardrobe stylist for 9 hours a day, or,
Really? I thought it would be cool
to sell high-end showerheads and sinktaps to the über rich
in a fancy NYC showroom (I’m totally serious)
If not this, something better…
Okay. On to the rejection that really, really stinks. Getting dumped. Yeah, it happens to everyone, and it’s just part of the game. Each time I go on a date or get into a relationship, I’m willingly risking getting hurt. If I want to avoid that, then I can’t date. Boring! So what’s my pearl of wisdom in the realm of romantic rejection? One is “rejection is the universe’s protection” (sorry, I am stepping up the self-helpyness). I admit, this idea works best when dumped by someone I haven’t been with for that long. I like the idea that when someone loses interest, I’m getting out of relationship with someone who doesn’t see how rad I am. Now I get to be with someone that worships the ground I walk on! Another thought to keep in mind is, it’s totally normal and healthy to be sad. It means you’re not a sociopath (ha). Give yourself permission to be sad and disappointed! So often I’ve stressed myself out by trying to get over it ASAP. Now I cut myself some slack. I’m not gonna mope and cry forever. Stay positive. The blues always pass. Fall back onto your awesome friendships and try to have a little extra fun to get your mind off things. I promise, you will get to a place of, “It’s alllll good.”