By Lisa Sugarman
I just got rejected. Twice in the same day, actually. And I’ll be perfectly honest, it sucked.
I’m sorry, I try hard not to be negative. But the reality of rejection is that it’s sucky. And no matter how hard I try, that’s a reality I just can’t sugarcoat.
And we’ve all been there, too, either as kids or as adults. In that awkward, hollow moment, hearing those deflating words, feeling that deep disappointment and wishing we were anyplace else so we could avoid the inevitable. It’s the old you-can’t-please-all-the-people-all-the-time scenario. And every single one of us has been touched by it in some way.
Whether you were rejected by the girl you asked to prom or by the hiring manager who just didn’t think you were the right fit or by the group of popular girls playing on the field at recess, rejection stings. Bad. In fact, it pierces so acutely, right straight through the chest cavity and directly into the heart, that I honestly believe it may hurt worse than most physical injuries. After all, you can’t cauterize a broken heart. That’s because emotional pain heals according to a very unique and unpredictable timetable.
Oh, wait, I never told you who I was rejected by or why. Sorry. I was negged by a couple of literary agents. You know, the middlemen between authors and publishers. They’re the ones who represent writers and shop them around to publishers and get them big, fat, juicy book deals. Not that I was looking for a big, fat, juicy book deal; but a tiny, skinny, dry one would do me just fine.
For one brief second after I read their standard form emails, I was so simultaneously deflated and bitter that I honestly wanted to reach through my laptop and bitch slap them. Then I heard my mother’s voice in my head. When you cast your bread on the water, honey, something always comes back. Always. You just have to cast a lot of bread.
And, as usual, that’s all it took to reset my emotional compass and remind me that rejection is just part of The Process. Any process. Rejection is simply a reality check that reminds us to be humble to the fact that we can’t always get what we want.
See, every single one of us has the fundamental need to be accepted, whether it’s by our family or our friends or our co-workers. It’s primal. On some level, we all have that internal craving for positive reinforcement from other people and when someone rejects us, or some part of us, like our work or our ideas, it’s a blow to our self-esteem. And there’s really no way around that.
But, that’s just life. And a critical part of life is learning to cope with disappointment and learning how not to be derailed when our caboose wobbles a little on the track. Think of it this way, rejection is to our emotional well-being what cold and flu germs are to our immune system. They suck, but ultimately they help strengthen us and make us better equipped to fend off the hurt when it comes.
What I’ve always found so interesting is the difference between emotional and physical pain. It’s pretty astounding, actually. I mean, try to remember how painful it was when you broke your leg in three places skiing and your brain can’t recreate the actual physical pain. You remember all the details but they’re all one dimensional. But remember back to when the mean girls in middle school teased you for wearing overalls every day (don’t judge, they were comfortable). Your heart quickens and your face flushes and the same anger and sadness you felt thirty-five years ago manifests itself in the exact same way that it did back in 1977.
That’s the thing, though, about rejection. It comes at us all disappointing and harsh and nasty, but oftentimes is the best thing that ever happened to us because it leads us in the exact direction we were meant to go in in the first place.
When properly harnessed, rejection or disappointment of almost any kind can be recycled as raw fuel to motivate us to try harder or reach further. That’s the secret most people don’t see right away; because rejection blurs your vision and distorts reality. At least initially. But rejection also has great motivational properties buried inside the innermost layers of its negative shell. We just have to be nimble and open enough to recognize it.
The trick is not to fear or hate rejection, but to harness it. Because lamenting over what you didn’t get does absolutely nothing to help you move forward. All it does is snuff out your passion and renders you pathetic. A good attitude, though, well that’s like rocket fuel. And a full tank of rocket fuel can take you, well, to the moon.