I met with an author recently who had just been rejected by a long list of publishers. She’d been working on her proposal for months, had labored over her sample chapters and marketing plan. She felt in the deepest part of herself that she was supposed to write this book. And still, the publishers told her, “no”.
No—we don’t think this book has an audience.
No—we don’t think it will sell.
No—we don’t it is a good idea.
By the time she and I met, she had processed the rejection and had found some peace around it. But if you were to rewind to the moment she hung up the phone the week before, you would have seen a devastated woman, on the verge of giving up. I’ve been there—rejection from a publisher, from a friend, from someone I loved—enough times in my life that she didn’t have to explain herself.
I know it all has this way of making you feel like nothing matters, like all of this was worthless anyway, like everything is falling apart.
Of course, none of that is true.
But unless we have a healthy way to categorize and process rejection in our lives, the pain will keep us from a life full of excitement, fun, adventure, risk and play.
It will prevent us from bringing our greatest gifts to the world.
Why get better at getting rejected?
Rejection is a natural, normal part of life. You cannot date, have deep or meaningful friendships, get married, survive a marriage, be a parent, do any kind of creative work in the world, or accomplish anything else of substance without a little bit of resilience to rejection. That’s because rejection is part of the process.
We don’t think of rejection like this. We think of getting rejected as a sign of our personal failure, as a sort of gavel coming down on the value we have (or don’t have) to bring to our work or to our relationships. But what if rejection isn’t that at all? What if rejection is actually a messenger to us—giving us insight we couldn’t get anywhere else?
More on that in a minute.
Why does rejection hurt so much?
I’m convinced the most painful part of rejection is not the rejection itself but the story we tell ourselves about the rejection.
Take a minute and think about the last rejection you faced. Maybe you were fired from a job, or maybe you were left by someone you loved. Or, maybe the rejection was more subtle. You texted a friend and they didn’t text you back. You found out your friends did something fun but didn’t invite you to come along.
Even small rejections feel big, depending on the story we tell ourselves about them.
What was the story you told yourself about your rejection?
Why did you tell yourself it happened?
When a romantic relationship comes to an end, we often tell ourselves something like, “this always happens to me, I’m terrible at relationships, if only I would have done fill-in-the-blank differently, I’m such an idiot, I wasn’t good enough…” When that becomes too painful, we fluctuate to a similar story about the other person—which goes something like, “&%*@&$#! He promised… she promised… what a liar… what an idiot… men can’t be trusted… women can’t be trusted…”
These stories are our way of coping with the pain of rejection by providing a kind of explanation for why the rejection happened. But ultimately they end up causing more pain than they can numb.
What if you found a new story to tell yourself?
- It wasn’t the right timing
- There’s something in this for me to learn
- This has nothing to do with me.
- I do not know the whole story. I will not make assumptions.
When we release the painful story we had been telling ourselves, we release most of the pain of rejection.
What is left is grief. And grief is something we can handle.
What getting rejected is telling you.
When we assume rejection is about us (our failure, our inadequacy), we miss the most incredible thing rejection is actually trying to show us—which is that, while there is nothing wrong with us, there may be something wrong with what we believe about ourselves. Getting rejected clearly illuminates these beliefs—all the “I’m not good enough,” messages and “this always happens to me” crap that has been getting in our way all of this time.
We cannot discover our true self until the “false self” dies. That’s the way Richard Rohr puts it.
Rejection helps us to do that. In that way, rejection is this great gift.
Your “false” self is how you define yourself outside of love, relationship, or divine union. After you have spent many years building this separate, egoic self, with all its labels and habits, you are very attached to it. And why wouldn’t you be? It’s all you know. To move beyond this privately concocted identity naturally feels like losing or dying… if you do not learn the art of dying and letting go early, you will miss out on the peace, contentment, and liberation of life lived in your Larger and Lasting Identity…
What Rohr is pointing out here is that our beliefs are incredibly powerful. They are the rudder of our lives—a filter through which we process all of our experiences. If you believe you are worthless, for example, everything you experience in life will be filtered through that belief. Even when something good happens, you’ll filter it through your “worthless” belief and think to yourself, “This is too good to be true. It won’t last..”
When you’re rejected, you’ll think to yourself, “see? I knew it. I told you so.”
On the other hand, if you believe you are full of love and made of love (your true self) and have so much to offer to the world, you’ll filter everything that happens to you through that belief.
When you experience rejection, you’ll think:
- Wow, I am so loved and protected…
- There is something better for me. Thank goodness I’m on my way to finding it.
- This experience does not change that I am love (true self) and I am loved.
- There is something here I’m meant to learn—and I’m so grateful for the chance to learn it.
- This is a guiding hand of love, pointing me in different direction.
Rejection, in many ways, is challenging you to put your false self to death and embrace your true self—the highest, most loving, most effective, most beautiful version of yourself.
Rejection is YOUR GREAT GIFT.
The worst thing you can do
One of the greatest lies we tell ourselves is the the best way to endure rejection is to “grow thicker skin”. You hear this all the time in the world of business and art and relationships: “over time you’ll learn to grow thicker skin. This stuff won’t get to you as much.”
Nothing deepens our pain in this lifetime quite like following this advice.
The problem with growing thicker skin is that this is the false self at work again, the ego self, the self that wants to protect and hide and posture and pretend like everything is OKAY when they you are NOT OKAY. The ego self is at war with the true self. And the danger of embracing this advice is that we cut ourselves off from the one thing that actually heals us—LOVE.
Our hearts. Our desires. Our dreams.
The truth is the only way to become resilient to rejection is to stay connected with ourselves, with our hearts, our desires, our wishes, our dreams, even when it hurts. Even when we aren’t sure how things will work out. Even when it seems like all is lost. This is the great paradox: we lessen the pain or rejection by embracing the pain of rejection. (Tweet that)
The lie we tell ourselves is that feeling the pain of rejection makes us weak.
The truth is feeling the pain of rejection makes us human. Rejection is part of life.
Learning to grow “thicker skin” might prevent some pain for you in the short run. But in the long run it will prevent you from getting what you most deeply desire. We get what we most deeply desire when we are strong enough to bear the pain of waiting for it and still soft enough to receive it when it comes.
The great invitation of getting rejected.
The great invitation we are given when getting rejection is this: can you be more yourself after the rejection than you were before? Can you allow rejection to illuminate those negative beliefs about yourself, so you can put them to death and give your true self more space to live? When getting rejected, can you allow it to motivate you toward your own becoming, rather than the alternative?
This is the invitation.
It’s quite literally what getting rejected is asking you to do.
Our tendency with rejection is the opposite of this. Our tendency is to contract, to disappear, to go away, to hide. But if we can find a way to stay open in the face of rejection, to keep showing up, to be more of ourselves, getting rejected becomes the very best thing that ever happened to us.
It’s how we find our way in the world.
Instead of simply being broken hearted, we become broken open.
What do you really want?
One practical way to stay connected to ourselves and our desires—to our hearts—is to admit what we want, even if we can’t have it right away.
Let me ask you something:
- Can you want something or someone that you can’t have right now?
- Can you be honest about something you desire that you may never be able to have?
- Can you stay connected to who you are and what you want, even thought you don’t have 100% control over achieving it?
- Can you trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, even if it doesn’t feel like it?
- Can you be in your life with your whole heart?
Those who survive the pain and find any measure of happiness are the ones who are able to, in the midst of it all, stay connected to love, to our hearts, to our true selves, who find a way—despite the drama of it all—to silence our ego selves and embrace our true selves, the self that is made from and enveloped in pure love.