There’s no question about it; successful people are those who have learned to cope with rejection. Milton Hershey had three failed businesses before his milk chocolate candy took off. KFC’s founder Colonel Sanders was rejected over a thousand times before he found financial support for his chicken recipe. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by twelve publishers! Imagine a world in which these three successful people allowed a few rejections to stop them; no Hershey kisses, no KFC, no Harry Potter.
We have all experienced rejection in many forms. It’s a universal dynamic in a relational society. Since we are all wired to be social, it’s always an unpleasant experience. For some, however, it is devastating. It can lead to deep despair and emotional trauma. It can also create an urge to lash out – to harm those who have rejected us or to harm ourselves for being rejected. Rejection hurts because we want to belong yet also be seen as offering something good and unique to the group.
Now that we are in the information age, we get instant feedback frequently on our level of acceptance. We can feel rejected when our Facebook posts don’t get “liked”, when we are ridiculed online, and “unfollowed” on Twitter. Depending on how vulnerable a child is, disrespectful comments from complete strangers can be taken as rejection. This rejection by others is often quickly followed by rejection of the self. We accept the negative feedback from others without question and agree with it. Self-reflection then says “I’m too [fill in the blank]” or “I’m not [fill in the blank] enough.”
How can we create more resilience for our children so that they can withstand rejection and criticism from others without having their self-esteem crushed? Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly”, says that we have to live with a sense of belonging and worthiness, and that we have to let go of what people think in order to claim our worthiness. We tend to take the question “Do I matter?” to others when we should instead only ask “Do I matter to you?” In this way we can still matter to ourselves even when (not if) we don’t matter to someone else.
Failure and rejection are guaranteed parts of life and cannot be avoided. Successful people don’t thrive because they’ve never experienced rejection. They thrive IN SPITE OF rejection. Elaine Dundon, author and TED speaker, identified three responses to rejection that are commonly used by resilient and successful people. The first is to “reflect” on why the rejection (or failure) happened. Maybe it was bad timing, or perhaps the other person was having a bad day. It is always true that how people treat us has little to do with us, and much more to do with what is going on in their heart at the time.
The second response is to “reboot.” This is the chance to start over rather than just give up. Try a different approach and utilize more or new information to allow the other person (or group) to reach an agreement with you. This gives the other people another chance. It also gives you an opportunity to hold yourself in esteem and stay connected to what is important to you.
Thirdly, “reject” the rejection. Sometimes people will reject us no matter what we do or say. This is where the phrase “haters gonna hate” comes in handy. Others will reject us simply because we give them that kind of power. So don’t give it to them. Don’t allow others to define who you are.
In our attempts to belong and be accepted, we cannot and must not allow others to define our worthiness. In the face of rejection of from others we must not reject ourselves. We must all keep a firm hold of our own hearts and resist the temptation to let someone else be in charge of our identities. When we let someone else define us, we have essentially made that person our God. Remember that others people are just human beings like you. They can reject you only if you give them permission.