Rejection! It is something we all experience yet we all dread. No matter how affluent, beautiful, intelligent, celebrated or talented any of us may be, we’ve all been rejected at some point in our lives. And as long as we take the necessary risks to get what we want, we will continue to get rejected. Over and over again. Artists and creative people face a lot more rejection than other people. (I find this ironic, as we artists are considered to be more sensitive to rejection than most people, yet we probably get more of it than most. The same sensitivity that enables a great painter to notice blends and hues of color and subtle nuances of lines and shapes that form pictures–what others fail to notice–can make that same painter sensitive to criticism or disapproval.
In addition to marketing their work, opening themselves up to the inevitable “no’s,” artists often express themselves personally in their work. So a rejection of the work can feel personal, a rejection of an aspect of the artist him/herself, when the art has become the artist’s “baby.” If I write a poem about the pain I felt when my brother died and I pour my heart out, bearing my deepest, darkest secrets and fears in those words then when someone reads the poem and says, “Ah, that’s stupid. I’d never write something like that,” I might feel slighted and vulnerable. I’ve put my heart out on the line and someone just crushed it. But if my “day job” is telemarketing, selling someone else’s product, rejection from a customer might not hurt me at all, as the product has nothing to do with me personally.
But we rarely stop to think that rejection might actually be a good thing. Once, I lamented to a career counselor that my family was very dysfunctional and just weren’t there for me when I needed them. “Well, maybe that’s the gift,” she said. In other words, if your family is that unhealthy and maladjusted then maybe their staying away from you is a good thing–a gift for which you should be grateful.
I’ve pondered this idea many times. Once, I heard a motivational speaker talk about rejection. (He was a religious speaker, a Christian fundamentalist I believe, but despite his conservative bias and his occasional begging for donations, his ideas had tremendous value. This is also something that I’ve learned. No one is perfect, but even though I don’t agree with everything a person has to say, I can still take his good advice that I do agree with and without rejecting his entire speech altogether.) Anyhow, this Christian motivator said that when someone doesn’t like you, rejects you, hurts you, then just recognize that God doesn’t want you to be with that person and move on. Now whether or not you believe in God or are Christian, think about this concept. Perhaps you just weren’t meant to be with this person, this employer, this college, this opportunity. Perhaps it isn’t right for you. Perhaps the conditions of the job are totally different from what you’d expected them to be. Perhaps you wouldn’t have liked it after all. Perhaps you wouldn’t have felt comfortable at that college. Perhaps you’d have married this guy and found out his goals were not compatible with yours. Would you like to be in an unhappy marriage–just so that you would not be alone? Have you ever felt alone while with someone else? Believe me, it’s not very pleasant.
(I’m not trying to sugarcoat rejection. It hurts, to be sure. Sometimes we don’t get what we truly want. It can be a tragedy when we’ve worked hard for something yet still not reached that goal, despite all our hard work. What I’m suggesting is that we cry our tears for a short time then quickly move on with the knowledge that there is always something even better that’s waiting in the wings. We don’t need to give up but rethink and regroup. It’s hard to accept at first, but there really are “plenty of other fish in the sea.” And that doesn’t just apply to lovers but to jobs, to homes, to cars, to just about anything we’d like to have in our lives.)
So this “gift” of rejection applies to many things. Have you ever thought you were in love? When we think we’re in love, we often idealize that person. He can do no wrong. He is perfect! What we don’t know about our love interest, our imagination creates for us until we’ve got a whole idea in our mind’s eye of whom we think that person is. Until one day, we find out…he is not what we thought he was at all.
And life can be like that too. We think we really want that job, that college, that opportunity of a lifetime. Of course, we’re disappointed when we don’t get it. But not getting something only opens another door for us. (And the more we focus on our disappointment, on not getting what we want, the less likely we’ll notice the other opportunity that’s just waiting for us, right around the corner!) It is the gift of opportunity that we would have missed had we gotten that something we’d fallen in love with. The man who says, “No, I don’t love you,” is just giving the man who truly does love you his opportunity to step in! And that man would never get the chance if you were already involved with someone else. The “dream” job that someone else–not you–gets just opens the door for you to find the better opportunity that’s just waiting for you to knock on its door. Maybe this is the time for you to start your own business. You didn’t have the courage to try it before but now that you’re jobless, what do you have to lose? Might as well jump right in there and begin–right now! Or maybe this is the time for you to go back to school. Or to look at other job possibilities. Maybe another job offer is waiting around the corner, a job much better suited for you, and you wouldn’t have seen it if you’d gotten hired by this company.
When we’re fixated on a specific goal and we don’t achieve it we can at least rest assured that there’s something even better for us out there. But we’ll only see that better opportunity when we accept this rejection as a gift that can teach us something. What can we learn from the gift of rejection? We can ask ourselves, why didn’t I get what I wanted? Is there something about me that needs to change before I am ready to receive that goal? Maybe I need to go back to school and acquire new skills before I’ll be ready for that type of job. Maybe I need to grow as a person until I am ready to have what I want. Maybe I need therapy or just some time to rethink my strategy, to regroup. Or maybe the goal itself needs to change. Maybe I need to adjust what I’m looking for because that job just wasn’t really what I’d wanted after all. There were aspects of that job that I hadn’t really considered.
What I’ve also learned from rejection is that it is not necessarily personal and it is not always permanent. Today’s rejection might be a result of the job interviewer’s having had a terrible day. Or maybe you resembled his spoiled cousin with whom he doesn’t get along. So it may have had little to do with you. A different hiring manager might be in charge next year, and by then you might have more work experience and completely blow her away with your excellent interview, résumé and references! Getting rejected today might have saved you from working with someone with whom you wouldn’t have gotten along and given you the opportunity to prepare for an even better job next year.
Again, I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything. Rejection sucks! No one likes it. But we have two choices when it happens. We can cry in our beer, wallow in our misery and ruminate on how great things could have been, if only… Or we can move on and look for the other, better opportunity we would have missed had we not been rejected today.
I say, look for the gift.
Sometimes that means following the road less-traveled or creating our own unique path. Sometimes it means thinking “outside the box.” Sometimes it means enduring more rejection as we try out other possibilities for which we were unprepared. But with each rejection, we are growing, learning, finding out what works and what doesn’t work for us… Until one day, we find ourselves writing a blog…about…rejection.