It’s inevitable. During the course of your career, doors will open. And some will close—sometimes with a big, unanticipated bang. (Heck, some doors might not even be open-able to begin with, no matter how hard you try.) I’m talking about rejection, something we all have to suffer through sooner or later. There’s plenty of it going around in the world of work, and ouch, can that hurt.
Lost your job? Passed over for the promotion? Missed out on a sale you were counting on? Suffered public criticism in a meeting? Never got one response from the last 20 resumes you sent out? Rejection can occur from an almost endless variety of angles—all of which can make you feel inadequate, inferior, or downright useless.
The sting of rejection is indeed painful, but it’s almost unavoidable if you’re going to get out there, live your life, and take a few risks along the way. Sometimes you may feel like giving up. Other times you may feel like a total failure. And there’s a possibility you may even feel angry and ready to seek revenge.
I can relate. I’ve experienced my share of rejection over the course of my career as a business owner, executive, and trainer. And I’ve discovered that you have to acknowledge it, learn from it, and develop a healthy approach to dealing with it. Knowing how to “shake it off” (Thank you, Taylor Swift!) will become one of your most valuable skills and help you move on more quickly toward success.
But first, a little background on the subject. Fundamentally, our aversion to rejection is a natural, built-in trait, which has actually helped us to survive as humans. Originally, being rejected from the “tribe” meant almost-certain death—we would be unable to survive without the rest of our clan to help us stay warm, find food, and protect us from enemies and predators. And now, fast forward to present day, where “alarm bells” go off in our heads if we sense a disconnect from the group (even if “the group” is only the people who are ignoring you in the break room at work, or the interviewer who didn’t hire you). Our brains view this type of rejection as dangerous, even though it’s no longer dangerous in the same way it was when we lived in caves. So our instinct tells us that we need to do something—whatever we can, to correct our situation and gain admittance back into the tribe, before we perish from the cold, starve to death, or succumb to a pack of hyenas. Truly, being rejected, even on a minor scale, throws our brains into a type of panic mode—a remnant from days gone by.
Now that you know the terrible feelings you get when you’re rejected are completely natural—tight stomach, depression and withdrawal, self-loathing, or whatever your “specialty” negative emotion or response might be—you’re feeling much better, right? Probably not right. Just because they’re evolutionarily understandable doesn’t make them palatable.
Hopefully, one or two of my suggestions below will help:
- Develop a thicker skin. It’s called resilience—your ability to move on from rejection without becoming damaged or discouraged. And there are a couple of proven ways to develop it, both of which are actually enjoyable. First, make a list of some of your very best qualities—five or six will do. Perhaps you’re a great organizer, or you’re very prompt, or people listen to you, or you’re really good with unhappy customers. Look over your list. Enjoy the feeling you get from being competent, from being valuable. Let that feeling sink in, make it a part of you, and use it to combat how you feel when rejection comes your way. Simple as it seems, this method really works! Second, make sure you have a network of sincere, supportive friends in your life. When you’re feeling rejected, do your best to spend some time with them, ASAP. They don’t even have to tell you how wonderful you are (although it might be nice!)—it’s simply the act of being around people who love and appreciate you that’ll give you a boost and help you bounce back.
- Stay positive. The best piece of advice I can give you is this: View every rejection as a positive event. At first, it might seem impossible, but try. Positive thinking is just like every other skill that’s worth acquiring—the more you practice, the easier it becomes. And eventually, you’ll be able to reframe just about any event into a positive one. For instance, losing that job might be the best thing that ever happened to you if it freed you up to find your true dream job. “No” may simply be a stepping stone to “yes.”
- Keep your emotions under control. Sure, you feel like pitching a fit or lashing out, but don’t. Don’t complain, bad mouth people on social media, be rude or offensive, or talk about people behind their backs. I realize that sometimes we simply need to talk, so if you feel the need to vent, do so with a trusted friend. But put a limit on it. No one likes a chronic whiner, not even your best friend or your mother. Give yourself fifteen minutes, or a half-day, or some reasonable timeframe to get it off your chest, and then put it behind you.
- Remember, you are not alone. Everybody in the work force has been (or will be) rejected at some point or another. It’s part of the territory. If you ask the people around you, many will have stories of rejection—and recovery. Use these people as role models, and know that you, too, can bounce back, stronger than ever.
- Change whatever areas you can. If you need more training to get that promotion, then get it. If your resume needs improvement, polish it. If you need to work on your sales approach, do some practicing. Put together a list of action steps you can take. Then take them. You’ll instantly feel better if you’re seizing control of your life and moving forward.
- Get back in the saddle quickly. It’s okay to take an afternoon off, hit the pause button, and reflect on what went wrong and how you could have done better. Self-reflection is essential for personal growth and can help you turn a setback into an opportunity. But the next morning, wake up, brush yourself off, and get back at it.
- Keep moving forward. As Albert Einstein said, “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” The same is true with your career. If your current dream is no longer an option, start pursuing a new one. If it’s time to look for a new job, so be it. If you need to head back to school, go for it. Just keep moving, and doors will open for you. I promise.
- Don’t give up. Here’s something I continue to tell myself over and over: Sometimes you can’t tell the bad news from the good, especially when you’re stuck in the middle of it. In other words, you might think you’re in the dead center of the worst possible thing that’s ever happened to you, but in the moment, you might not have the perspective to understand that it’s the golden opportunity of your lifetime. So keep your eye on your goals and don’t give up. Ever. And what may feel like rejection in the moment may be exactly the motivation you need to make your next move, find your perfect career job, and soar!
How about you? How do you handle rejection? I’d love to hear from you!