Like pretty much everyone, I have a long and brutal history with rejection.
It all started in second grade when I didn’t land the part I so desperately wanted in my elementary school musical. My heart was set on the role of chocolate milk carton. But, instead, I met my destiny by wearing a white cardboard box labeled “2%” and was then relegated to the second row to wallow in my own disappointment.
I’d love to say things took a turn for the better since then. However, rejection still managed to creep its way into my life.
I wasn’t accepted into one of my top choice colleges. An internship opportunity ended up falling through. The employer I interviewed with for an entry-level position decided to go with another applicant.
Today, I often joke that I make my living being rejected. I’m a freelance writer, and—for every impressive byline of mine you see—there are at least eight more publications who gave me the standard, “thanks, but no thanks.”
Needless to say, since my days as a milk carton, rejection has become somewhat standard in my life.
Sure, there have been major wins and accomplishments sprinkled in there too—and, I’d love to say that those are the things I focus on most. But, I’m only human. The flops and failings have a way of supergluing themselves to the front of my brain, while the successes amble their way to the dark recesses of my mind—never to be celebrated again.
I’ll be the first to admit that rejection really had a way of bringing me down when I was getting started as a freelancer. Every single form email I received managed to poke major holes in my confidence and pour overflowing watering cans on top of the seeds of self-doubt that already had some pretty strong roots.
“Don’t worry!” people would tell me in an attempt to be encouraging and supportive, “It’s all part of the process. You’ll get used to it. You’ll get some oil in your feathers, and rejection won’t even phase you anymore!”
It’s a well-meaning sentiment (although, I can’t say that I particularly like the idea of becoming an expert at being let down). But, here’s the issue I take with that sort of message: I think it’s wrong.
Take it from me—someone who’s been passed over far too many times to count: Rejection never really gets easier. It will still take the wind out of your sails. It will still have you staring slack-jawed at your computer screen wondering where you went wrong. It will make you wonder why you even try. And, it will always, always sting.
Cheery stuff, right? But, here’s something that’s slightly more encouraging:
Rejection might never get easier, but you do get better at dealing with it.
Yes, you’ll still want to drown your sorrows in a bottle (or two) of wine when you don’t land that promotion. But, you’ll know how to keep your emotions in check, react appropriately in the office, and save your fits of frustration for later.
Me? When I don’t score a freelance gig I really want, I still take a few moments to let out some choice words and vent to my dog about why I ever decided to pursue this obviously fruitless career path. But, after that? I thank that publication for their consideration, dust myself off, and move onto the next.
I’d love to be able to say that you’ll eventually reach this mythical promised land where rejection doesn’t hurt and you can carry on without a bruised ego or decreased confidence. But, it’s not like an infection—unfortunately, you won’t build immunity to it over time. Anybody who tells you different is delusional or lying to you.
Rejection always stings, and you’re more than justified in acknowledging that. But, it’s what you do after that period of feeling discouraged and disheartened that matters. Take it from this second-row milk carton: Being turned down will never be an exciting experience that you actively seek out—but, it can be an enlightening opportunity for growth.