I'm no stranger to rejection.
From Kindergarten and all the long way to eighth grade, I was madly in love with Eddie Merrill. He was hunky and handsome, with a great head of wavy brown hair, and my stomach would fill up with butterflies every time he passed me on the playground or in class. If he even glanced my way or bothered to ask me what page we were supposed to be on in our history books, my face would flush red and I would fantasize about that little interaction for days.
The jungle gym and tether ball play of Kindergarten and first grade turned quickly to fourth grade California mission projects and science fairs, which turned into all the drama of junior high school dances-and still, I pined away for the boy with the heavenly hair. All my girlfriends knew it. Oh Brother. He knew it. Shudder. And alas, my infatuation for the hunky handsome one went unreturned and unrequited.
It took me a long time to get over that rejection. Not the boy himself. But I am pretty sure I entered high school and the world of adolescent changes on a shaky foundation when it came to my confidence and my self-esteem in the area of boys.
Fast forward through college and the working world. As we grow, hopefully we become more confident in who we are, in who we are becoming. Little did I know that rejection was soon to become my ally. I had discovered that I was discontented and unhappy in my 9 to 5 job, so I listened to the authentic pull of my heart and found myself on the path to becoming a firefighter.
The competition for firefighter jobs is fierce. Thousands of people apply for a few positions. The job of a firefighter is challenging at all levels-physically, emotionally and mentally. But I wanted it. And I found out, if you want to be a firefighter, rejection is something you will get used to.
At this stage in my life, rejection fueled the fire (no pun intended!) even more. Rejection caused me to see the seriousness with which I wanted this service career and made me even more determined and motivated. Rejection became my ally as she caused me to meet challenges, get better, and keep going. As I look back, I am aware that rejection helped me build qualities (determination, courage, resiliency to name a few) essential to being a good firefighter. After two years of being rejected multiple times, I finally earned my firefighter badge.
My latest interaction with rejection caught me by surprise. Recently I sent out a mass mailing of query letters to literary agents, hoping they would be interested in my manuscript, the first book I've ever written. I had read somewhere that only 1% of query letters end up in interested hands, and even less in book deals. When my first (of many) rejection letters, popped up in my email just a mere fifteen minutes after sending it out, I found myself laughing out loud. "Omg Wow, my first ever rejection letter! This is so exciting! I'm in it, I'm doing it!" I felt wildly elated.
Who is this person? My rational mind was incredulous. As more rejection letters came, this feeling of excitement did not waiver. As a fleeting image of a wavy-haired schoolboy crossed my mind, I was highly aware that this rejection felt like a major milestone in many ways.
Even when I did get that 1% letter of interest in publishing my book, I was certainly happy, but I must say on a deeper level I was more thrilled with my curious and evolving relationship with her-the one known as rejection.
So, what can we learn from our dance with rejection?
- Rejection hurts a lot. We naturally take rejection personally and it can travel to the core of our self-esteem.
- As human beings we inherently seek connection and belonging. Rejection flies in the face of this need/desire. That's why it hurts.
- Rejection and all the accompanying human emotions - sadness, unworthiness, powerlessness, fear, and anger are normal and part of the human experience.
- We can get better at dealing with rejection. First we honor those accompanying human emotions by allowing them to surface, feeling them, expressing them, and accepting them. We are human and it's part of the human condition to feel all emotions.
- When we have felt our emotions, we may be able to look at the situation more objectively. Is the rejection really exclusive? Or is it about the other person in some way, the situation, the timing? Maybe we don't have to take the rejection completely personally. One step at a time.
- We can even get good at dealing with rejection. Rejection might motivate us in certain situations. It might show us that we are indeed on the right path or that we need to make sweeping changes.
- And then one day along our path, we might find that this thing called rejection has diminished in its seeming enormity and even lost its hurtful sting. Rejection has morphed into a sign of something other than pain. It has become the reminder that we are truly living, going for it, playing the game, engaged in life and all that entails being a human being on this planet. We are in it! The good the bad all of it. We are engaged in life! We recognize that we are living fully and wholly all aspects of this human experience.
And one day, you too may just find that rejection has morphed from pain, to ally, and even to friend.
Written by: Beverly Molina