Reframing Rejection

“When you’re following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first.”

Kelly Cutrone


The fear of rejection may be an inherent part of our human nature. But for many of us, this fear may overwhelm us to the extent that it is almost paralyzing.

Maybe you’ve been meaning to ask somebody out on a date. Maybe you have a manuscript kept in your drawer. Maybe you have a business idea that you’re excited about.

We may have mentally rehearsed an elaborate vision of how we would go about doing the things that matter to us — but too often we stop dead in our tracks at the thought of being criticized or discarded.

Rejection tends to feel like a personal attack, like a cruel stab on our ego and self-worth. Sometimes, it could feel as though our own ideas and beliefs about our identity are completely shaken down. And for a moment, we feel as though we don’t even know who we are.

So, we reject ourselves first, for fear that others would reject us. It’s so much easier, so much safer to hear ourselves say “no” than to hear it from somebody else.

But what if rejection isn’t so bad after all? What if rejection is in fact, a necessary part of our lives? Imagine then, what would you do if you were better able to handle rejection?

For entrepreneur and writer Jia Jiang, it has been his endeavor to educate himself in reframing rejection, and in turn, help others in doing the same for themselves.

He could recall a memory of being 6 years old in school. His teacher had a gift-giving session, where she brought gifts for all of her students. Each student was supposed to call out another student’s name and compliment them, and after that, they could come forward and receive their gifts. The intended lesson here, was for the students to learn the virtue complimenting other people.

After each name was called, Jia gave his loudest cheer. Eventually, nearly everyone had their names called and got their gifts, except for Jia. He broke into tears as no one had anything nice to say about him.

For the longest time, this humiliated 6-year-old was unhealed, still hurting from his wounds. Even as an adult, he tended to be painfully discouraged at the smallest signs of rejection. He remembers having to walk out of a restaurant and breaking down after getting an email from investors, saying that they weren’t interested in his business idea.

After licking his wounds from the incident, he resolved to learn to handle rejection differently. He looked for solutions online, and came across a challenge called “Rejection Therapy”, which requires one to actively seek rejection for 100 consecutive days.

Making sure that he wouldn’t chicken out from the challenge, Jia recorded his journey on his blog and YouTube channel, as he made bizarre requests to strangers such as, “borrow a hundred dollars”, “play soccer in someone’s backyard” and “change a coffee shop’s Wi-fi password”.

In going through his first handful of challenges, he was scared to death. But gradually, he outgrew the fear of embarrassment and humiliation, and became more desensitized to having his requests rejected.

He would later write a book about his experiences, titled Rejection Proof. And here are some of the lessons and reflections that I gained from it on how we can reframe rejection.

Firstly, rejection is human. Everybody, even the best of us, gets rejected at something — or to be more precise, many different things. Rejection isn’t a reflection of who we are, or our self-worth. Rejection simply is.

Secondly, rejection is an opinion. It’s worth remembering that at the end of the day, rejection is simply what another person, or certain people, think about you or your idea. Rejection isn’t definitive, as opinions can be heavily influenced by various factors, such as ones that are psychological, historical, or cultural, which are impersonal to you. Opinions may be influenced by time too, as feelings and worldviews could easily change down the road.

It’s also worth adding that rejection is a two-way street. Even in a situation where you made mistakes that factored into your being rejected, it’s rarely the case that it’s all your fault. Human beings are complex after all, and it is likely that your rejection is also a reflection of matters that have nothing to do with you, but more with the rejector.

As Jia writes, “The way someone feels about me, or about a request I’m making, can be impacted by factors that have nothing to do with me. If people’s opinions and behaviors can change so drastically based on so many different factors, why should I take everything about a rejection so personally? This simple but profound realization helped me to start taking the emotion out of rejection — and to look with new eyes at the decisions people make.”

Thirdly, rejection has a number. Given that rejection is an opinion, is it likely that you haven’t asked enough for you to get a “yes”? Because sometimes, it is just a matter of persistence, in that you can try asking different people, or keep reworking your pitch with the same people.

Think about the great works in literature for a moment. Many of the most creative and significant writers received dozens and dozens of rejection letters before having their work finally published. A great example is J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, which was repeatedly turned down, until a publisher decided to give it a chance after his granddaughter begged him to, having read the manuscript from end to end.

“No matter how good or bad the work is, there is no mathematical way for everyone in the world to accept or reject it,” says Jia. “But if acceptance Is the only thing a person strives for, all she or he needs to do is to talk to enough people. Odds are that someone will eventually say yes.”

Fourthly, rejection could be a sign that your work is novel and has great value. As Jia puts it, “Companies, organizations, parents, teachers, and our society as a whole universally praise creativity and thinking outside the box. However, when creativity actually happens, it is often met with rejection, because it frequently disrupts orders and rules.”

When you’re doing something unique and new, it’s only natural that there are people who would oppose it. Because it’s always more comfortable to stick to the status quo. Think about Bob Dylan, for example. He risked alienating his own audience for the sake of expanding his own musical capabilities. Huge crowds of people literally came to his shows just to boo and heckle him, after he left the folk genre and started playing electric.

But what did he do, when he was called “Judas” in his show? He simply turned his back to the audience and screamed to his band to “play it loud”. He is now easily revered as one of the greatest songwriters in history, winning prestigious honors like the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize. And no one today could care less about who his hecklers were.

Fifthly, rejection helps you find your fit. Rejection becomes much less hurtful once you remember that, whether we realize it or not, rejection serves us in weeding out people and situations that aren’t a good fit for us.

“Rejection is God’s protection”, as the saying goes. Especially in Islam, the belief in fate, or Qadar, is so heavily emphasized, that it is in fact considered one of the pillars of faith.

When you face rejection, then, you simply do your best to move forward and place your faith in God that whatever you were rejected from likely wouldn’t be good for you. And with every rejection, you are being led towards something that is just right for you.

Before I close off this article, it might be meaningful to also remember that rejection may also be an indication of personal growth, in that you’re putting yourself out there, way outside your comfort zone.

With that being said, the question we should perhaps ask ourselves is not how we could run away from rejection, but whether we, or our ideas, are worthy of being rejected.

Whenever you’re on the fence about doing something that may get you rejected, imagine being in your deathbed.

Would you wish that you didn’t have to go through all the rejection that is contained in doing meaningful and difficult things? — or would you wish that you had put yourself in more situations where you could get rejected?

In most situations, the worst that could happen is that you’d get a “no”. 

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