Rejection can be tough to handle. I know because I face them often in my life.
As a personal development blogger, some readers reject what I write in my articles, sometimes writing lengthy personal emails to tell me why I’m wrong. In my work as a speaker, there are times when participants reject what I share during my workshops. In growing my business and blog, there have been countless times when I reach out to others for collaboration opportunities, only to get turned down.
Even in my personal life, I experience rejections too. For example, my family members are private individuals – they don’t like to talk about themselves. There have been times when I try to connect them on a personal level, with limited results. Some of my friends can be quite nonsocial – Often times I contact them to arrange for a meet-up, only to receive lukewarm responses. Here, their rejection comes in the form of non-reciprocated efforts.
Needless to say, rejection can be quite a downer, especially when you’re banking your hopes on a positive outcome. No one likes to receive a “No”, when it’s so much better to get a “Yes”.
The thing is, rejection is part of growth – be it in work, relationships or life. In the past few years of actively pursuing my growth, I’ve learned it’s not possible to avoid rejection if you want to truly develop as a person. Rejection helps you to uncover blind spots, to learn more about yourself, and ultimately to grow.
The only way to avoid rejections is to box yourself tightly in your comfort zone, in which case you fail to live by default. This is not how you want your life to be – You’re capable of so much more.
While rejection isn’t easy, there are ways to deal with it and make it manageable. Here, I’d like to share with you 5 key steps that have worked very well for me:
1. Don’t take it personally
When you approach someone, you open yourself up, so getting a rejection naturally makes you feel like they’re rejecting you. That’s why most people tend to take rejections personally.
For example, when I get rejections on things that are very important to me, I feel hurt. I’d wonder if there’s something wrong with me or if I’m not good enough. I’d also wonder if there was something I could have done to make things different. This puts me in a state of self-doubt.
Of course, such thinking doesn’t help. It only makes you feel bad about yourself. For whatever rejection you’ve faced, recognise it’s a rejection of the request, not you. Your request is merely an extension of your thoughts; it does not represent you as a person. Both are two entirely separate things.
recognise that many rejections are rarely personal. They usually reflect more about the other person and how the request doesn’t meet his/her needs, than about you. By taking yourself out of the equation, you’ll realise a lot of your emotional responses with the rejection are unnecessary.
2. Expect rejection
Anticipating rejection helps me in 2 ways.
First, it challenges me to set a high benchmark to what I do. Since I’m expecting a rejection, it forces me to push my boundaries and put my best work forward, so as to increase my chances of a “Yes”. Secondly, even if a rejection does arise, it helps me to handle it better, since I’m already prepared for it.
This doesn’t mean you start going “Oh the world sucks and no one will accept what I do/say” and adopt a doom-gloom view. The underlying principle here is to do your best, while preparing yourself to handle the worst.
Make sure you don’t end up procrastinating instead. The point is to use rejections as a driving force to become better, not as an excuse to put off the work.
3. Maintain your focus of control
There are 2 focuses of control in life – External focus, which refers to anything outside our sphere of influence, such as our environment, colleagues, society and the world out there. Internal focus refers to what’s within our sphere of influence – our thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviours, etc.
Someone with an external focus of control sees the world as the main controller of his/her universe – He/she feels that he/she has no say in his/her life, and everyone has power over him/her. On the other hand, someone with a high internal focus of control sees that he/she is the sole determinant of his/her reality. He/she recognises he/she has the power to do what he/she wants.
Most people will adopt a high external focus of control in the face of rejection. They lose self-confidence and see themselves as incapable, lousy, or even worthless.
Yet, doing so does not address the situation. It only sends you on a downward spiral, which serves absolutely no purpose other than to feel like crap about yourself. Not only that, you’re also relinquishing your power to others. That’s not good at all, and you definitely don’t want that!
The best way to handle rejection is to maintain your focus of control. In life, there are always going to be naysayers – the key is to learn to tackle the naysayers vs. let yourself be beaten down by them. Focus on the things you can action on. What can you do about this situation? What have you learned about it? (See point #4) How are you going to apply what you’ve learned? What are your next steps? The more you focus on actions you can take, the more you empower yourself.
4. Learn from the rejection
There’s always a reason behind each rejection. Sometimes it may be a lackluster idea, a mismatch of needs, bad presentation (of the idea), bad approach, incompatibility of values, misunderstanding, and so on.
If you can understand the reason behind the rejection, you can do things differently next time. This will be immensely helpful in your growth.
One easy way is to follow-up and ask why. This can be done for almost any situation – interviews where you were rejected, client proposals, suggestions your managers turned down, and business meetings. Let them know you accept the rejection and you sincerely want to learn what went wrong, so you can improve. When done in an appropriate and sincere manner, the other party will often be more than willing to share and help you to improve.
The second, less direct way is to objectively analyse the situation and troubleshoot what went wrong. Why did the person reject this? What was the person looking for? Did the request not meet his/her needs? What could I have done better? By way of self-questioning, I’m able to uncover a lot of learning points that I was not privy to before.
5. realise rejection is progression, not regression
Most people dislike rejection because they associate it as regression – moving backward. To get a rejection means to face a dead-end in your goals. It means you have wasted your time and effort on this for nothing.
Right? Wrong. Contrary to popular belief, rejection is progression, not regression.
It took me sometime to realise this, but I finally did so a few years ago. It wasn’t a sudden a-ha moment, but more of a gradual realisation over time. I realised all the fears about rejection are just mental, and rejection is actually a step forward to knowing what people want, what’s out there in the reality, and how to improve ourselves to achieve our goals.
In fact, the more times one gets rejected, the better – because then you’ll have such an extensive understanding of your blind spots and what people are looking for that nothing can take you by surprise anymore. In which case, rejection becomes your best friend and partner in growth.Learn to handle rejection, and it’ll become your vital tool to your growth and success. Today, I integrate rejection as a part of my daily life, where I constantly challenge myself to new opportunities that may well result in rejections.
The result? It has made me a more active participant of life and I’m totally loving it. Rejection has turned into one of my best tools for growth, just as it will for you too as you embrace it into your life.
Written on 5/17/2011 by Celestine Chua. Celestine writes at The Personal Excellence Blog, where she shares her best advice on how to achieve personal excellence and live your best life. Get her RSS feed directly and add her on Twitter @celestinechua. Photo Credit: Bryan Gosline
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