The Rejection Advantage
“Death would be an easier option.”
I heard the warning loud and clear in my mind, “Death would be an easier option.” My body didn’t feel like my own: my heart pounding out of my chest, breathing shallow, limbs suddenly feeling paralysed so even if I wanted to run away, which I desperately wanted to do, I couldn’t I was trapped. My friends offered words of encouragement but I couldn’t process them. I faced the depressing thought that my fear might win. That perhaps I had finally met my match and that going up to a strange man in a bar with the sole intention of chatting him up, (to get the rejection that I fully expected) would outdo me.
This didn’t make sense. I had packed a suitcase and moved to another continent by myself when I was 18 and then again when I was thirty-three. I had been the one to stand up to the school bully when I was 12 years old and then survived a lonely year of being shunned by all the girls in my class. And yet here I was, in a cushy hotel bar in LA and the fear I was experiencing was so primal and so completely overwhelming. I knew that if I didn’t conquer it, I would never be able to utter the words “The Rejection Advantage” ever again with a thread of integrity.
Here’s the thing about rejection, it is part of our human experience. People who avoid rejection are avoiding the fullness of life. Those of us who avoid rejection are, usually, highly skilled at creating our lives to naturally avoid the rejection we fear. How do I know this? To tell you the truth, it is because I am somewhat of an expert in rejection. You see, if there was an Olympic event in which people were measured on their fear of rejection, I’m pretty sure I’d be on the podium receiving the gold medal. But some time ago I learned that this shameful little secret wasn’t just mine.
It turns out that when I began talking to people about rejection that everyone instantly knew what I was referring to because they too experience a similar fear of rejection. Whether it is the taxi driver who tells me that he really wishes he could give inspirational talks to at-risk youths but doesn’t try too as he worries he won’t make a big enough impact; or the millionaire CEO who is fearless at work but holds back in her relationships at home, despite wanting to be closer with her children and partner. Fear of rejection is an equal opportunity stalker. And so the taxi driver tells himself that he doesn’t have time to talk to youths and the CEO takes work home with her so she can hide away in her home office because she has work to do.
But what if there is another way? What if we could begin to perceive rejection differently? What if we could begin to acknowledge the advantages inherent in seeking rejections…yes you read that correctly…the advantages of seeking rejections. We reject in many ways, letting potential growth experiences and opportunities pass us by, often without even noticing them. When we do notice them, we frequently have excuses about why we will still just let them pass us by. But all rejection truly begins with self-rejection, so let’s start there.
Why was I stuck to the sofa and not just approaching someone who is, after all, just a human being? In my head I played out the rejection. He’ll reject me because I’m too fat or not sexy enough or too short. Translation: I find things about me unacceptable or lacking and so will everyone else. Then I went through the reasons why I shouldn’t approach this man: because he might have a partner, he might be gay, he might think I’m a prostitute looking for work (I have a somewhat active imagination). Those stories tried to dissuade me from approaching him. Finally, the big hitter of my thoughts: what if he really publicly rejects me and people see it? The fear of public embarrassment was enough to practically superglue me to the sofa forever.
You can probably tell that my fear of rejection had put my thinking into overdrive…and it served a single purpose: to make me not take action towards facing my fear. To tell you the truth, it almost worked.
Margaret Paul, PHD, is a relationship expert and in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post about rejection she said:
‘What I didn’t realize in those years was that there were many ways I was rejecting myself, which led me to feel like I wasn’t good enough unless others liked me and approved of me. My fear of others’ rejection was really a projection of the many ways I was rejecting myself.’
If we take my example in the bar, I was full of judgment for myself, which largely focused on my physical appearance because the truth is, that is my weak spot. If we boil it down, my rejection of my own body led me to project that onto this innocent stranger so that he was rejecting my body and therefore me. I also gave this poor man all the responsibility for deciding if I was acceptable to be flirted with or not, to be found attractive or not…does this sound as bonkers to you as it does to me? In fact, it is a tad embarrassing writing this down but the truth is, when we pick apart our thoughts around fear of rejection we tend to find uncharacteristically illogical thinking.
Rejection is opinion, not fact. When “the King of Rock n Roll” Elvis Presley began his career he was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager, Jimmy Denny: “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving’ a truck.”
Now that is a strong opinion from someone in the music business, and if Elvis had taken that rejection and quit then, we’d never have heard about his blue suede shoes.
Oprah Winfrey was fired from being a reporter after being told that she wasn’t fit for TV. I suspect that the 25 seasons of The Oprah Winfrey Show and then her Oprah Winfrey Network channel rather illustrate how rejection is opinion and nothing more.
When it comes to rejecting experiences Dave Cornthwaite can tell you a thing or two. After working as a graphic designer, paying a mortgage and spending his evenings playing video games for a few years, he was living a repetitive and uninspiring existence. From the outside it may have looked as though Dave, who is like so many of us, had a ‘normal’ life, but in reality he was rejecting the very idea that it could be different, that he could be different, that he could be having more fun and feeling more fulfilled by doing something very simple: saying yes more.
In fact, Dave believes in the power of saying ‘yes’ more so much that he created a social movement spreading the message “Say Yes More”. When Dave stopped rejecting anything other than the status quo, his life shifted dramatically. He now travels the world, he is a sought after public speaker, he has written 3 books and broken world records and changed lives as he spreads his message throughout the world…and so much more. All because he stopped rejecting and started accepting experiences.
Why do we reject experiences, often without even realising it? When I was 18 years old, a friend from college asked me what I thought about her applying to be a nanny in America for a gap year. I remember it so clearly, as I wholeheartedly encouraged her to go for it. I even told her that I would love to do it but it wouldn’t be possible, but she definitely should. That evening at home I thought about the conversation. I thought about my excitement at the opportunity and about the reasons I couldn’t possibly apply. It occurred to me that the reason why I was saying ‘no’ to the opportunity was because I thought that exciting experiences like this were reserved for other people. Somehow, I was rejecting these experiences because I had rejected myself. When I realised this I did apply, and I did go to America…but I didn’t go for a gap year, I stayed there for 16 years!
When we say yes to experiences we have more fun. Often we are agreeing to do things that are outside of our comfort zone, which requires courage. Here’s the wonderful thing about acting with courage, you gain confidence in yourself and with that, self-rejection decreases. Today I was part of a flash mob for the London tube rush hour ride home. I’ve wanted to be part of a flash mob for a while, and when the chance to experience one came my way I didn’t hesitate. Even though I felt a little nervous, I trusted myself to call on my courage and confidence to dance my way through, and it was so much fun. I am going to do a tandem skydive later this month. You see saying yes more, especially when it scares you silly to do so, means that you will have much more fun and feel so much better about yourself.
So if you want to feel more self-accepting and confident then I recommend that the next time you are offered an experience that would be fun (and legal) that you follow Dave’s advice and “Say Yes more”.
In addition to rejecting experiences, we often reject possibilities. It’s amazing to me how many people tell me they want a pay raise and how few ask for it. Or how many people say they’d like to study or start their own business, who don’t because of the stories that hide their self-rejection. I once had a client who came to me because he feared giving presentations. In fact, he had just turned down his dream job because he would be required to present to the board on a regular basis. The story my client held on to was that he would never be able to present and so he must turn down the possibility of the career defining job he always wanted. That may seem extreme, but if we turn to evolutionary psychology, it begins to make a lot of sense.
You see, we are social creatures and from the beginning of time we have lived in groups, also known as tribes. Now in cavemen days living as part of a tribe was key to survival. The tribe hunted and gathered for the group, they protected one another and ensured reproduction of the species. To be cast out of the tribe was a sentence to certain death.
The part of our brain that is focused on survival still believes that we must have the safety of a tribe so that we don’t die. In today’s world that means social inclusion in our tribes. To speak up and embarrass ourselves is to risk rejection by the listeners and remember that in our brains rejection from the group means certain death. Today we have become very sensitive to the myriad of ways in which we can experience rejection. So we don’t ask for the raise or promotion. We don’t apply for that start up business loan. We don’t ask that cute girl out on a date. But what if we tolerated our fear of rejection and sought the pay raise, the promotion, the loan or the date with the possible love of our lives?
Understand that there is part of your brain, which is seeking to protect you from being ousted by your tribe. We have to remind it that things don’t work that way anymore, by asking for what you want and purposely seeking possibilities that sound good. You may not always get the yes you seek, but you’ll get more yes answers mixed in with the no’s if you ask. If you don’t ask, then you are stuck with 100% NO.
There is a saying from Byron Katie that we can have anything we want if we are willing to ask 1000 people. The key here is the willingness not to give up too soon. For some, asking a single person will be significant because previously they rejected themselves. The truth is, we just don’t know which number will be the acceptance we want.
Rejection has a number and for Robert M. Pirsig it was 121. Robert holds the world record for the number of rejections for his book, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which was rejected from 121 publishers. This is more than any other best-seller. Agatha Christie had 5 consecutive years of rejection before she got her first acceptance. What if Robert Pirsig had stopped at 120 rejections or if Agatha Christie decided to give up after 3 years? We don’t know the number of rejections we’ll get before the acceptance we seek, but just know that if it is less than 1000 that you’ve still got a chance to get your yes.
Get rejected, live well
Rejection means you are living your life to the fullest. People who don’t get rejected, don’t do anything, they play it safe and never get to really play.
Given that self-rejection has protective qualities, it might be worth asking yourself this question: who would I be and what would I do differently if instead of self-rejection I lived into self-acceptance? Sit with that for a moment. Sometimes it can be a scary thought to see how different life could be as it will rely on calling upon more courage to live this way. Remember that the by-product of acting with courage is self-confidence, which just means that living this way gets easier the more you do it. The more I live into self-acceptance the more opportunities exist to live the fullest life possible.
Despite being stuck to the sofa in the hotel bar, somehow I reached deeper than I’ve ever reached before and found just enough courage to stand up. It actually felt like an out of body experience. I had my cheesy chat up line in my head and I found myself in front of this man. You know the crazy thing is that every step between the sofa and him scared me silly and then something surprising happened. I spoke to him and he smiled. By the end of my first sentence I felt all my fear vanish. I literally went from feeling petrified of doing the scariest thing in my life to feeling calm and confident that I would not only live but that it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
We chatted, we laughed and I felt my interest in him wane quite quickly so took my departure. I then approached another man and had a lovely conversation with him and it was so easy the second time. So how has facing that fear helped me? Well, there were other things that I really wanted to do that scared me; like throw myself out of a plane strapped to nothing more than a skydiving instructor and a parachute (one hopes). But despite having no idea where I’d find the courage to jump out of the plane at 15,000 feet, I just know that I will, because in the past I have felt and conquered paralyzing fear.
Here’s a thought. Next time you become aware that you are experiencing fear of rejection, ask yourself these simple questions:
- How am I rejecting myself in this situation?
- Who am I giving all my power to decide if I am acceptable or not and is that appropriate?
- What would Dave say? (Hint: YES)
When you fear rejection from others, that rejection has a number and that you simply need one opinion to get your acceptance. That getting rejected is a sign that you are choosing to live your life to the fullest and that getting no’s is part of that process. Develop your superpower against rejection by living in courage and confidence.
Because rejection is a human experience it can feel good to be reminded that we are all sharing a common experience. The website www.therejectionadvantage.com has been created so that you can go and read stories of other people who fear rejection and find out how they are living life accepting that rejection can be an advantage. Add your own story, learn, and connect.