- Rejections are not necessarily truths; they are opinions being expressed about a person or idea.
- The fear of rejection drains one's energy and creates unnecessary tension in their life or work.
- Rejection is temporary. It's possible to find deeper meaning in it and move on to new opportunities.
Ten years ago, I gave a TEDx talk in Hong Kong entitled, “Reject Rejection.” The overall theme for the day was “Radical Resilience,” a topic that appealed to many people due to the increasing rates of burnout, anxiety, and self-doubt. Now here we are a decade later and, unfortunately, these issues appear to be even more prevalent in our society, especially among younger age groups.
One of the key elements of building resilience is knowing how to deal with rejection. Rejection is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives with instant feedback via social media and the spread of “cancel culture,” where your views can be rejected or canceled if they are not in line with another person’s views, leading to even more intolerance of differences.
Throughout our lives, we are both the recipients of rejection (rejected by others) and instigators of rejection (as we reject others). Importantly, we can not expect everyone to just follow our way or accept all our ideas, nor will we always accept all the ideas proposed by others.
In my TEDx talk, I shared insights from my research on rejection in a wide variety of personal and work-related situations. Here’s what I learned and my simple three-step process for dealing meaningfully with rejection:
When faced with rejection, begin with reflection. Reflect on why the rejection happened. Was it your approach? Did you not give the right information that the other person needed? Was the rejection due to poor timing or because the other person was too busy or simply not interested in the topic? Are you lacking some skills you need to demonstrate in order for others to accept your idea? Learn from the rejection and use this information to do better in the future.
The second step is to reboot or start over. Offer new information or try a different approach. For example, if you are applying for a new full-time job, offer to work part-time to prove your talent first. Try to get agreement on a smaller idea instead of a larger, more complex idea.
Some people may change their minds and decide to support you while others may never change their minds. It is important to understand that everyone is in a different “space” and, in some cases, no matter what you say or do, they will reject you or your ideas. For example, some people strive for safety and predictability, so your new idea may seem too “risky” to them. Others strive for creative freedom and your proposal might be too mundane or out of character for them.
At this point, it is important to move to the third step: Reject their rejection. By adopting this mindset, you will ensure that you don’t become a prisoner of your own thoughts,1 while at the same time, open yourself up to new opportunities to connect meaningfully with other people and other ideas.
Some people have asked me, “Why is it so hard to move on after I have been rejected?" While everyone’s situation and background are different, one common factor is the fear of not belonging to the group; of not being accepted by others. The fear of rejection, my research and experience have shown, will drain your energy and create unnecessary tension in your life. Unfortunately, by giving in to these fears, you are allowing someone else to have more power over you than you believe you have yourself.
Rejections are not truths being told about you; they are only opinions being expressed about you, based on other people’s different perceptions of reality.
Remember, rejection is temporary. Don’t let it stop you from moving forward. New situations in the future will provide new opportunities. Finding deeper meaning in rejection strengthens your sense of self and builds your resilience to confront life’s challenges. Embrace and practice this simple mantra: “Reflect, reboot, reject."
1. Pattakos, Alex and Dundon, Elaine (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd Edition. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.