Stop Learning from Rejection

Rejection.

There’s no feeling quite like it. In fact, rejection probably ranks in my top (bottom?) five list of worst emotional experiences to have. The thing is, it’s an incredibly common experience. The very reason that people tend to fear rejection as much as they do is precisely because they’ve usually experienced it before. When it comes to looking for work, that fear can be dangerously demotivating. Without a thick skin, job applicants can have a hard time persevering through a long-term job search.

Just writing the word rejection evokes in me vivid memories of a much more insecure adolescent self. There were so many rejections… the most memorable of which, unsurprisingly, involve my hopelessly ineffectual attempts at teenage romance. The story of my romantic ineptitude begins much earlier than that, however. A brief timeline:

Grade 2: I and a “friend” named Mike happen to have a crush on the same girl—Marie. We confront her and force her to choose whom she would rather marry. She chooses Mike. Woe is me.

Grade 5: The latest crush is on another classmate, this one named Kara. I have a dream that she humiliates me in front of all the cool kids at lunch hour, and never work up the nerve to talk to her.

Junior high school, probably grade 7 or 8: Still never dated or even so much as kissed a member of the opposite gender. But now my peers are starting to do those things, and it suddenly seems really important to get on the dating bandwagon. This time, I actually work up the courage to ask out a girl in my homeroom class. She’s probably as awkward about saying no as I am about asking her in the first place.

Grade 10: In high school now. There’s a girl in my “career and life management” class who seems pretty cool. I spend a few weeks semester thinking about asking her out, during which time she starts going out with somebody else.

University, second year: I work up the courage to ask a girl in one of my big lecture classes if she wants to grab a coffee. She agrees, we meet up after class, and she even gives me her number! Mysteriously, every time I call, she seems to be out of the house. I don’t recall seeing her in that lecture ever again, now that I think about it…

Yeah, rejection hurts big time. There’s not much to do after an experience like any of the above except to sink into depression and write lots of dark emo poetry retreat, lick your wounds and try again, though. The trick is to try to forget how painful rejection truly is. If we forget, we’ll inevitably try again, and most likely be rejected again at some point, but there will almost certainly be some successes in there somewhere too.

The whole rejection thing is a lot like living somewhere with incredibly cold winters, but often beautiful summer weather as well (trust me, I lived in Edmonton for 20 years). People complain about winter every year, but then, in the summertime, they seem to forget just how cold it was. Then winter comes around again and the same people are swearing they’re going to move somewhere warmer one day. The thing is, they never really learn. (There’s also an interesting cold weather pride thing that happens in Edmonton, where you get to make fun of West Coasters when they complain about it being +4 degrees and raining. But that’s another story.)

Stop learning from rejection, because that leads to fear of taking risks, and risks are a necessary part of career growth. I’m happy to say that the story of my romantic life went from being full of rejection to full of happiness, because I never learned that getting my heart trampled on continuously by romantic interests wasn’t worth the pain (and in fact, a year ago today I proposed to my fiancée, Caity). Embrace that same ignorance of rejection in your career. One day, you just might find the one you’ve been looking for all along. The ones that got away were just never meant to be. (But… if you’re reading this, Marie, I still think you made the wrong choice!)

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