Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Rejection Redefined

“I’m not interested”. “Leave me alone”. “Stop bothering me”. These are among the rejections I’ve received in the last few weeks. I have been canvassing on behalf of the Montreal Federation/CJA, and with canvassing comes rejection. Yes, most people have been polite, some even quite generous, but there were a few people who treated me with contempt. And I must say, those rejections really hurt.

In fact, it is human nature to avoid rejection. Instinctually, we avoid being left out of the group; we try our hardest to fit in. We quickly learn that any behaviour that courts disapproval from others can make us unpopular in general. As a consequence, we train ourselves to avoid anything that invites rejection. This is the basis of the fear of rejection.

This fear of rejection prevents us from doing some things we truly desire. We avoid asking for raises, asking people out on dates, even asking for directions, because we don’t want to be rejected. Indeed, most salesman have to be trained to turn off this deeply rooted instinct so they can do their jobs. It is often important for us to forget our fear of rejection.

But it is not only our fear of rejection that matters. Our understanding of rejection can determine the course of our lives. Rejection is often viewed as the end of a narrative, as in “I applied to Oxford, I was rejected, and therefore I was doomed to a second tier school”. I tried, I was rejected, end of story. Rejection can mean only one thing: the end of our hopes and dreams.

This need not be the way rejection is viewed. One can see failures as temporary setbacks, or even valuable lessons. As Winston Churchill put it “success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”.

No question, it is difficult to recover from the great rejections in life. A firing, divorce, or bankruptcy are crushing rejections. It is hard to pick yourself up and start again from the bottom, particularly if you have already tasted success. However, the only way to prevent rejection from being the final chapter is if we are willing to write a new one.

Indeed, the most inspiring success stories are the ones in which the protagonist carries on after enduring a crushing defeat, and succeeds. Like the inventor who tries thousands of experiments before realizing a major breakthrough. Or the best selling author who was single mother on welfare. Or the previously failed politician who rallies his country to victory in a world war. Or the lonely, penniless holocaust survivor who, years later, leaves behind a legacy of philanthropy and a loving family. Or for that matter, the nation that was exiled for nearly 2,000 years until it finally returned home. These are all examples of people who saw rejection as a mere obstacle on the road to success.

Rejections are crushing. However, their impact depends a great deal on our perspective. It is up to us to redefine rejection, and struggle to start again. Because a failure is only final when we give up hope.

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