It is a truth universally acknowledged that rejection totally sucks. Whether it’s at the hand of the guy or girl of your dreams, a job you really wanted, a graduate program, whatever–being rejected can turn even the most confident person into a bottomless insecurity pit.
Now here’s where you’d expect me to say that rejection isn’t that bad. That for every person who doesn’t love you/job you don’t get/school that doesn’t want you/etc, that there’s an EVEN MORE PERFECT person/job/school/etc waiting for you in the wings, because fate is mysteeeeerious. Yeah, that’s not how it works. There is no such thing as fate. There’s no divine plan governing who you bang and when, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your dream job once you’ve lost out on a certain number of lesser ones. There’s no rhyme or reason governing anything that happens; it just DOES, but how we deal with it says an awful lot about what’s going to happen next.
Honestly, rejection IS that bad because it feels like a failure, and nobody likes to fail. It sucks and it stings, and you never get used to it. But given that success is mostly how you pick yourself up when shit goes wrong, handling rejection well is a skill that you MUST have. So here are the hard facts about rejection. It’s not always pretty, but hey, it’s honest.
It might feel like it, especially when you’re super-invested in a specific outcome, but it won’t. Ride out the initial shock and pain by listening to Hey Jude a few (hundred?) times, and keep reminding yourself that you are going to be okay.
Say you made a move on the person you really liked and you got turned down cold. Ouch. Now, you could obsess over why it happened–are they seeing someone else? Do they think I’m a hideous beast?–or you could accept that a huge proportion of what influences people’s decisions is, for lack of a better term, THEIR STUFF. Maybe they’re in previous relationship-related pain. Maybe they have serious intimacy issues. Maybe they sleep with a severed head under their pillow. I don’t know! And neither do you. And that’s okay, because THEIR STUFF is theirs to worry about. You are not a mind reader, and it isn’t your job to find out. Resist the temptation to obsess.
The thing is, I’ve been rejected in a lot of situations and by a lot of people, and I don’t know if rejection DOES actually build character. I do know that it drives you to be better for next time. I know that it makes you tough. I know that it makes you honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Those are traits that I really like in myself, and they’ve been eked out in part because I’ve failed a lot. But I don’t know if rejection BUILT those things in me, or just chipped away at the excess until I could see them. Either way, the long-term results aren’t bad.
Since we’re talking about ballet: Once upon a time, I really really really wanted to dance Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I practiced harder than I’d ever practiced anything in my little life, and I was convinced that I’d get the role. I didn’t. It wasn’t even close. A much older, more experienced girl got the part and I was left to cry and convince myself that nothing good would ever happen to me ever again.
Do you know how often I think about that now, fifteen years later? Never. Do you know how often I think about the dude who professed his undying love for me, then got another girlfriend and went to jail, all in under one week? Never, except for writing that sentence. All rejection-related disappointments have a statute of limitations. Every day the pain gets less and less, until one day you barely remember hurting at all. Bonus points for turning it into a funny story.
Recently I had a crush on this guy. Everything seemed great. I’d made the effort to get to know him, to let myself be a little vulnerable, to talk about my Special Feelings…I even told him that I liked him, which is really, really hard for me. I’d normally rather chew off my own legs. Everything was basically awesome, until one day he started straight-up ignoring me. Ouch. So I took a lot of walks with my dog and made clever observations like “THIS IS WHY THEY’RE CALLED CRUSHES,” and I felt better in a couple of days.
Now. It would have been really easy for me to learn a lesson like “Being vulnerable is bad, because when you put yourself out there you’ll only ever get slapped in the face.” Totally logical interpretation of events! But you know what? NO. The lesson here is that sometimes you open up to someone who isn’t ready to do the same in return, and that’s okay. People are a gamble, and sometimes–a lot of times!–you lose. It doesn’t mean you don’t place the next bet.
So be careful with the conclusions you draw from unsatisfactory interactions. One person turning you down doesn’t mean you should go live under a bridge; it means you were turned down once. Better luck next time, right?
Once you’ve failed at something, you’ll notice that it wasn’t as scary as you thought. Once an editor tells you that they don’t like your pitch and you’re not the right fit for them, or a dude tells you he only wants to be friends, sure it sucks…but your life isn’t over. Edit. Go somewhere else. Meet someone new. Pitch it again. You’ve got nothing to lose! You’ve already been rejected, and you didn’t die! Let it be freeing rather than frightening.
Not to get all Wise Mum on you, but there are way worse things in life than being turned down by someone you want to see naked, or having your manuscript returned to sender. Nobody gets everything they want, and this is a normal–albeit shitty–part of life. It’s going to be okay. Just remember the wise, wise words of Samuel Beckett…
So what are you waiting for? Try again.