Rejection sucks. No one intentionally signs up for it, or escapes it, for that matter.
She’s leaving you. A close friend or family member distances or cuts you off, and won’t discuss it further. You’re fired from your job, or not hired at all. You can make your own list.
Rejection takes countless forms, and it can be really hard to let go and move on. Or know when to persist, as I did when my first book was rejected for five years.
When this same book later became a classic, Kathy Caprino from Forbes magazine interviewed me about my experience about being rejected over so much time, and why rejection hurts so much.
This small slice of our conversation is not for writers only.
Caprino: The Dance of Anger became a New York Times bestseller and is still flying off the shelves. Would you have predicted such success?
Lerner: The Dance of Anger was rejected for five years. I’ll always remember that long stretch of frustration and sorrow, when I sat hunched over a gray typewriter, the speediest technology of the day, with scissors and scotch tape as my cutting-and-pasting editing tools. I couldn’t walk into a bookstore without getting depressed. When the book was finally published, I thought no one would read it but my mother and my five best friends.
Caprino: Did you toughen up as the rejections accumulated –or begin to doubt yourself?
Lerner: I wanted to put on armor (or at least a wet suit) to protect myself from the pain of rejection, but I never toughened up. But no, I never doubted myself. I knew there was a serious need for the book I was writing, but that conviction just left me feeling doomed and mystified.
Caprino: Some people seem to let rejection roll off their back. How do they do that?
Lerner: If you’re an authentic, open-hearted person you won’t be immune to the feelings of shame, inadequacy, depression, anxiety and anger that rejection can evoke. Rejection is a fast route back to childhood shame. It’s not just that you went to a party and no one made an effort to talk to you. It’s that you feel you’re essentially boring and undesirable, and so it is and so it will always be. It takes a huge amount of maturity, and self-worth to not take rejection quite so personally, and understand that rejection often says more about the person who does the rejecting, than it does about you. I have yet to meet a person who enjoys being rejected. Of course, I have not met everybody.
Caprino: Any advice about lessening the pain of rejection?
Lerner: When we acknowledge that rejection isn’t an indictment of our being, but an experience we must all face again and again if we put ourselves out there, rejection becomes easier to bear. You can also succeed by failing, meaning go out there and accumulate rejections—whether it’s asking someone for a date, making sales calls, trying to get an article published or approaching new people at a party.
In truth, there's only one way to escape the pain of rejection. Sit mute in a corner and take no risks. If we live courageously, we will experience many rejections that will make us want to fold up in a corner and never put ourselves "out there" again.
Don’t let yourself stay in that dark corner for too long. Get out and accumulate more rejections.You can take some time out, but don't ever let rejection stop you.