Have you ever been told you won’t amount to anything, that you’re not up to the requirements of the position; your business ideas are ridiculous, the promotion is way above your abilities, you’re just not leadership material, you’re unattractive, unlovable or an abysmal failure?
Yup – we’ve all been on the wrong end of rejection, criticism and even ridicule at different times in our lives. It can leave you feeling crushed. It’s painful; it hurts—and it’s demoralizing and confidence eroding, if we allow it to be. While our rational brain knows that nobody excels at everything, and ultimately it’s only someone’s opinion, this kind of rejection can easily lead to self-doubt in other areas of our lives.
One of my current projects is writing the Huffington Post Business series Africa’s Female Entrepreneurs, and one of the common themes I’ve noticed in these diverse stories of courageous, successful women who are succeeding in extremely difficult, often downright hostile business environments, is that they seem to be immune to rejection.
They’ve perfected the art of turning it to their advantage.
And where this is concerned they follow some pretty famous footsteps:
For most of us Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein’s name is synonymous with genius, but he didn’t speak until he was four or read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. He was also expelled from school and refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.
Robert Goddard’s liquid-fueled rocket ideas were often rejected and mocked by his scientific peers who thought they were outrageous and impossible. Due largely to the work of this scientist today, rockets and space travel is part of our culture.
Larry Ellison’s adopted father told him that he wouldn’t amount to anything in life, and he bounced from job to job after dropping out of college twice. But then he started Oracle from scratch—and went on to become one of the richest drop-out billionaires in the world. He says:
I’ve had all the disadvantages required for success, a personality that questions conventional wisdom, authority, and expert’s opinions.
The first time Jerry Seinfeld walked on stage at a comedy club he froze and was jeered and booed off of the stage. The next night he went back out there and completed his set to laughter and applause—and the rest is history.
Imagine how different our world would be in so many ways if everyone took rejection personally—and quit?
Thanks to electronic communications, increasingly competitive business strategies, social media platforms and all the “must have/must be” advertising we live with daily, the risk of rejection is multiplied many times, since we’re constantly connected to thousands of people—and their opinions. It’s pretty certain then that we’re going to have our posts ignored, our connection requests turned down, our messages left unanswered, our business proposals declined, our job applications unrecognized or our dating overtures ignored. Any of these can leave us feeling rejected.
Then there are the heavy duty rejections; your partner leaving (especially if it’s for someone else), getting fired or retrenched from your job, your business going belly up, serious ill health or disability, or being ostracized by your family or community.
The fact remains that the pain of rejection is potentially paralyzing.
The question is, why? Why should you care whether the blog post you wrote is commented on, whether the images you posted on Facebook got a “Like”, whether you didn’t get that particular client or account or your presentation got a lukewarm reception? Why should being dumped by your partner or losing your social or material status ruin your mood; or worse, your life? Why would something so relatively insignificant in terms of the bigger picture have the power to trigger self doubt and make you slink off to lick your wounds?
Rejection is in the eye of the reviewer, right? Well, it helps to know that your brain (and mine and everyone else’s) is wired this way.
The same areas of your brain become activated when you experience rejection as when you experience physical pain.
You can blame history—being ostracized from the tribe was a death sentence. So we developed an early warning mechanism to alert us to the danger of being rejected by our tribe-mates. What being on the butt-end of rejection does, is trigger fears, anxieties, and worries hidden in a deeper, primal part of your mind.
Being sensitive to rejection means you’re more likely to change your behavior, in order to remain part of a tribe.
It’s a compliance; shape-up-or-ship-out disciplinary tool.
And this is not all bad. If we had no fear of rejection, we’d all be sociopaths, with no regard for moral or legal cultural standards, and an inability to get along with others or abide by society’s rules.
So rejection can have a positive or negative impact on your life—depending how you react to it. I can highly recommend getting a book published as a first class boot-camp for building immunity to rejection!
And remember what Einstein said:
If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will go through its entire life thinking it’s stupid.
Here are 14 ways to turn rejection to your advantage:
1. If YOU are your worst critic—stop! Right now.
2. Use rejection as a positive wake-up call. Ask “is there something I can learn from this; is there something I can stop doing, start doing, or do better?” Use it as a teacher.
3. Apply emotional first aid when your self-esteem takes a hit. Focus relentlessly on areas of your life in which you excel and that provide positive feedback. Celebrate, affirm and leverage aspects of yourself you know are valuable.
4. Don’t take it personally. Analyze the content objectively and clarify the intent of this rejection. Is it just someone’s opinion? Is it important to you or not? Why?
5. Ask yourself “how much of the pain inflicted by this rejection is self inflicted?”
6. Prevent your primal fears from being triggered by keeping it in perspective.
7. Ask “will I allow one opinion to define me—or refine me?”
8. Remember not to make sweeping generalizations—you haven’t been rejected by everyone or for everything you’ve ever done.
9. Keep more than one iron in the fire at a time, to reduce the odds of rejection. In fact keep multiple irons in the fire.
10. Don’t let one rejection derail what is right in your life.
11. Remember that doors of rejection slamming in your face can actually make the road ahead clearer. Now you know where you’re not going.
12. Avoiding all potential rejection will only make you act small.
13. Embrace potential rejection. Get out there and do what you’re afraid of—again and again. The sting of rejection will soon be a thing of the past. Encourage your team to do the same.
14. Remember how many times you’ve conquered it in the past.
No one can make you feel rejected unless you give them the power to do so.
The meaning you assign to rejection can decide the trajectory of your future. Like those who have learned to master it, use it as fuel to get where you want to go.
And if you need help to turn rejection to your advantage—click here.