Rejection Redefined: How to change the way we think about setbacks and use them to pave the path to our highest potential.
Last weekend was my 10 year high school reunion (which was equal parts bizarre and wonderful all at once). Part of the programming was the school’s first PechaKucha speaker series, and I was kindly offered the opportunity to be one of the alumni presenters. In true storyteller fashion, I constructed my 6 minute and 40 second “chit chat” as an anecdotal narrative around the concept of rejection, because I’ve been contemplating it quite a bit at this phase in my adult / professional life.
Prior to last year, I had been through plenty of rejection from personal relationships (we all go through this as we grow up). And with a background in the performing arts I’ve been rejected from my fair share of auditions and roles that I hoped for; it’s just understood that rejection is a norm in the world of showbiz. However, while I’ve kept it no secret over the last few months that I recently experienced my first major professional rejection, I hadn’t yet told the whole story to a theater full of live spectators.
After spending almost an entire year trudging through the collateral damage of the experience and reality of being fired, I mindfully worked myself into the place where I could appreciate my first big professional rejection as the best thing that could have possibly happened for my career. All I changed was my mindset, and I know you can change yours too.
My story seemed to be well received, so I thought I’d adapt it to this medium and share my thoughts about the subject with a larger audience here on the blog, in the hopes to both comfort and inspire if you’re currently trying to crawl yourself out of the suffocating pit of self-doubt. Here are some ways to own rejection if and when it happens to you, appreciate what it is doing for your life instead of to you, and use it to your advantage:
1. Redefine rejection for yourself.
Rejection is defined in the dictionary several ways. Most of the time, however, I think we only consider one of these definitions to be true, and we victimize ourselves with it. Rejection: to regard as useless or unsatisfactory. Because I’m a writer and I like to play with words, all I did was look at the word differently. I isolated the (R) and the word became EJECTION. Which meant something very different to me. I started to believe that instead of rejection happening to me, it was really the Universe working for me – ejecting me to the life I was really meant to live. This changed my viewpoint on my situation quickly, and helped me use this time of transition to my advantage.
2. Don’t listen to the inner voices telling you that rejection means failure.
As adults, it seems that our idea of rejection is the grown-up version of the red F for failure that we feared as students in school. However, I’ve come to believe that the negativity and shame that surrounds this fear is nothing but a bullsh** guilt trip. Who says we can’t look at the challenge we’re facing as opportunity waiting for us at the next exit, rather than a situation we’re a victim of? Don’t ever let anyone make you feel ashamed about a challenge – life’s setbacks are not what define us. The way we overcome them is what defines us.
3. Don’t cower at the mountain and give up. Instead, erode your own river through it.
When a mountain is put in front of you in life, there are two ways to react. You can play the victim (I used to do this when I was younger and it was an embarrassing display of my pride and immaturity), or you can choose to dig into that tension with determination, positivity and perseverance, and be the force that erodes a river right through it.
In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”
– Albert Einstein
If we choose to seize these challenges as opportunities, they’re there for us to conquer. They’re there to show us our resiliency and put us on the path to living our highest potential. Internalize your reality, and let it fuel your comeback. Trust me, the people who reject you in life are watching to see how you react. Be positive. Do better. Impress them. Chances are, they don’t actually hate you. My former boss and I are still friends – we cleared our airs. He is a good person and I know he thinks I’m a good person too. Sometimes circumstances are just unfortunate. You have to pick yourself up and keep going.
4. Allow yourself the personal time and space to work through your 7 stages of grief.
The seven stages of grief are shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and then acceptance. Everyone takes their own time in working through these, and they certainly aren’t limited to loss of life. During a loss of job or a major professional setback or a breakup, we feel these too. When I was fired, I felt a burning combination of grief, shock and denial. And that’s okay. I shut myself away for a while and worked through these things on my own.
I came to realize that being fired, believe it or not, seems to be a fairly normal occurrence. In my former office alone, just a few weeks after I was let go, dozens more were too. And the more I talk about it, the more people tell me it has either happened to them or someone close to them. It is what it is. Yes, it’s a blow to your ego. But I suggest working through those stages of grief with the few people who are closest to you while it still stings. Airing you dirty laundry and slandering your former employer (or former significant other, for the sake of example), shows a side of you that just isn’t becoming. Take the high road and grieve in your own personal space. People will talk more about your phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes moment than the moment you fell from grace if you make that the focal point and lead by example.
5. Waste no time in diving right in and doing the things that make you happy.
The thing is, when these times of unexpected ejections (what I’m choosing to call them) happen in our lives, they can lead to beautiful periods of profound self-discovery. Course corrections have a way of reconnecting us back to who we really are if we allow them. If we take advantage of the period of uncertainty that follows a personal or professional ejection, we can rediscover and reignite our inner light. For me, this was my time to get my mind and body out of the box that the traditional workplace had been smashing it into for 6 years. Commit to an exercise of creative, physical or mental endurance during the days and months after your ejection and you’d be surprised as to what magical unicorn qualities and / or talents you might uncover. Then, you proudly put that new horn on your forehead, and let it be the magnet that leads you to your next endeavor. Hopefully you paint the world with rainbow and glitter as you’re running full speed ahead. 😉
6. Lean on your oldest and truest friendships, and don’t be afraid to distance yourself from the ones that aren’t.
This period of re-alignment with the real you is a time when leaning into your uniqueness and authenticity as a grounding source will set the foundation for the projects and endeavors that get you back into the game stronger than you ever were. The people you choose to spend time with, who you choose to collaborate with, who you choose to help guide you will most likely shift. Being reconnected with a deeper sense of self and what truly means the most to you, now that you’ve experienced loss or challenge, will all of a sudden make your days far more meaningful and give projects a new sense of purpose. It also just feels really good to be around people who love you no matter what you’re going through. Throughout this past year I’ve learned a tough lesson about who my real friends actually are.
7. Trust that the Universe has a plan for you. Surrender to it, but give up on needing to know the details.
Do your best to work your hardest every single day with good intention. Think and say the things you want for yourself. It is freaky how, when your work comes from the right place, opportunities just start to happen. My ejection and what has come from it has been proof enough to me that I just need to give up on the “mile markers” of success I used to set so clearly in my mind. There is only so much in life that we can control, and the rest is up to the Universe. In the face of rejection and setback, how we rise from it is entirely up to us.
Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”
…And you might as well dance through the journey.
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