We face the threat of rejection in our relationships, our jobs, our creative endeavors and anytime we put ourselves out there to be measured or judged. We even face it each time we post a status on Facebook, a picture on Instagram or send a tweet out into the world. What if nobody “likes” it? What if nobody cares?
No person is exempt from rejection, and the aversion to it is inherent in our human makeup. According to Guy Winch, “We all have a fundamental need to belong to a group (or tribe). When we get rejected, this need becomes destabilized and the disconnection we feel adds to our emotional pain.” In fact, MRI studies have found that “rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain,” which means rejection can actually cause physical pain, along with “surges of anger and aggression,” a temporary reduction in IQ, and psychological wounds that “do not respond to reason.”
But some let the fear of rejection stifle them, while others face it head on. Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan, to name a few, plowed their way through various forms of rejection to get to the top. Did these people succeed because they’re powerhouses, or are they powerhouses because they didn’t let rejection stop them from succeeding?
This article will discuss four factors that can put us in the driver’s seat when it comes to rejection — not allowing it to control, divert or stop us on our road to success.
1. Healthy relationship with fear
Franklin D. Roosevelt understood how fears could ultimately work to our disadvantage when he famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In her article, “The Zen of Wholeness: Overcoming the Fear of Rejection,” Kerri Baruch says, “Fear — your Ego — is what dominates your actions. And that spells a crash course to disaster. It’s like handing over the reins of your chariot to an insecure two year old who’s throwing a complete temper tantrum.”
According to Marc Chernoff of the Marc and Angel Hack Life blog, the majority of our anxieties come from the fear of loss. Some of those fears include losing our youth, our social status, our money, our control, our comfort and our life. If we could get past the fear of loss, we would have little left to fear. Barbara O’Brien observes, “… we go through life grabbing for one thing after another to make us feel safe, or to make us happy.” But as the Buddhist philosophy teaches, we are one with the universe and there’s nothing outside of us. This positions us for “equanimity,” says O’Brien, freedom from “the compulsion to chase what we want and run from what we don't want.”
Clearly, rejection falls in the category of “don’t want.” But our tendency to run from it is the very thing that gives it power. Avoiding rejection is caving to our fear of loss. Not putting ourselves out there because we could flop allows the mere possibility of rejection to keep us from achieving all that we dream of. If we want to succeed in life, this kind of fear must be steamrolled.
2. Big picture perspective
Another part of overcoming the fear of rejection is putting it in perspective. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can really happen if … (insert itemized rejection here). For example, what’s the worst that can happen if nobody does read this article? Of course rejection comes in many forms and sizes, and rejection in a relationship may sting more than not getting the job, the part, or the deal — but none of these scenarios should be seen as the end of the world.
As Aly Weisman reports in Business Insider, Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." And there’s a whole website devoted to literary rejections, where we learn Dr. Seuss was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling,” and "The Wind in the Willows" was “an irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” Had Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss or Kenneth Grahame allowed individual opinions to defeat them, the rest of us would have truly missed out.
If you meet with rejection from one person, one job or one agent, then bark up another tree. Tenacity and perseverance will inevitably lead you to the right fit for you and what you have to offer … you just need to stay focused on the bigger picture.
3. Strong sense of self
The website fearofstuff.com points out, “our attitude towards rejection often stems from our sense of self. If someone’s ego is fragile, they will let the opinion of other people affect their moods and alter their daily life.” If that is the case, we can lessen our fear of rejection by strengthening our sense of identity.
Marc Chernoff said, “Never sacrifice who you are, or who you aspire to be, just because someone else has a problem with it. Love who you are inside and out, and keep pushing forward. No one else has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power.”
When it comes to rejection in relationships, remember this from Guy Winch: “Most romantic rejections are a matter of poor fit and a lack of chemistry, incompatible lifestyles or wanting different things at different times and other such mutual dynamics.” Berating ourselves over rejection from another person is putting too much emotional stress on our already fragile self-esteem. The less we internalize and personalize rejection, the better we’ll protect our sense of self.
Back to that list of powerhouses. The lineup continues with Stephen King, Elvis Presley, J.K. Rowling, and even The Beatles. Maybe rejection fueled these folks to want to prove themselves. After being rejected from film school three different times, for example, Steven Spielberg had every excuse to give up. But instead of letting rejection define him, he was defined by his determination — and look where that path led him.
It’s also likely these people understood rejection to be a stepping stone in the path to success. In her article, “The Importance of Rejection Letters,” author Caitlin Ricci notes, “Rejection letters remind us that we tried, teach us patience and keep us humble.” Many authors view the stack of “no thank yous” they accumulate before making that first sale as a badge of perseverance.
The more we can find purpose in rejection and make it part of our path instead of seeing it as only an obstacle, the more we will succeed in spite of it.
So there you have it: my article about the fear of rejection. Whether you read it or passed on it, that’s Amy: 1/ Fear: 0, and I count that as a win.