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How to Take Rejection, And Grow Stronger Because of it

Rejection hurts. We learn this early - whether it's not being picked for our school soccer team, not getting that part in the drama club production, or being turned down by a prospective date - there's a sting to rejection of any type. And it's not only us mere mortals - Oprah Winfrey was famously demoted from her news anchor position as she was not 'fit for TV'. Rejection affects us all - but luckily, like for Oprah, it can make us stronger.

It is human nature to remember the pain, the frustration - but overlook the positives that we have drawn from our experience of rejection. When you think about it, rejection is also a powerful way to grow and develop. Maybe that soccer team rejection drove you onwards to train harder, and become a better sports person than you thought possible. Maybe the drama club experience showed you a different opportunity in writing or producing. And seriously, speaking as someone fifteen years out of high school, when I look back at my choices of 'prospective dates', I now see lucky escapes rather than hurtful rejections.


The experience of seeking internships, applying for student competitions and graduate jobs, can be a time of frequent disappointment and rejection; and just like when we were kids, we choose to dwell on the frustration, or grow from the experience. The danger of wallowing is clear - if we see nothing but rejection, then why bother? Why push to find the next opportunity, the next way to stretch ourselves?

Don't get caught in this trap - if you're struggling with rejections right now, take these thoughts to help you through what will certainly only be a temporary low.


Understand, and work with, the change curve

The change curve is an established model showing the emotional reactions we all have to change - be that dramatic change such as a bereavement or redundancy, more simple change such as a job rejection letter, or even positive changes like finally getting that grad scheme place. It is natural to pass through different stages as you come to terms with the change. Typically this means you experience shock, denial and anger, before a period of resignation, which with time moves to acceptance and commitment to move on and seek to achieve new goals.

The variable on this process is in the length of time spent at each stage, and the curve can pass very quickly for some, but linger on indefinitely for others, with the 'resignation' phase, the bottom of the curve, becoming more akin to depression, and causing longer term impacts on emotional well being.

Understand the process - a quick google search will turn up dozens of great resources; identify your own emotions and allow them to ride through. Don't wallow, but do allow yourself space. Michael Jordan has been quoted as saying that after being cut from his high school basketball team, he went home, locked himself into his bedroom, and cried. Grieving is normal after rejection, so experience it, then move on to accept the rejection and recommit to a new goal. Imagine what might have happened had Jordan just hung around soaking up the misery?


Try not to take it personally

This can be a tough one - but remember it was not you as a multifaceted, talented human being, who was rejected - it was, essentially, a piece of paper, a shadow of your full self.

Reframe the experience - 'It didn't work out' is an empowering way of looking at it - there is no fault in the rejection, and trying to 'blame' yourself or another is unhelpful in the longer term. Respect others' opinions - the fact they rejected you doesn't make either you or they wrong, just different. The story of Steve Jobs being unceremoniously dumped from Apple before returning to lead it to glory is well known; and even the great Walt Disney was once fired for 'lacking imagination'. Maybe these guys are proof that things will work out in the long run.

Mazlow - the originator and grand-daddy of motivation theory, describes 'self actualisers' as the people who have achieved genuine fulfilment in life. Reaching this point is the pinnacle of his progressive theory, so not an achievement that will happen overnight; but it is worth remembering that self actualisers are 'independent of the opinion of others' -in other words, learning not to take rejection personally can also be a step towards genuine fulfilment.


Share (carefully!), and learn

Sometimes a problem shared is a problem halved. Talk to your friends and family about your feelings if you are frustrated after a rejection. Be wary, however, of complaining too much, or airing grievances on social media. Once committed to Twitter, it doesn't go away; and in days, weeks or year to come you might regret it. Employers look at social media as standard, so don't let yourself come across as petty or vindictive in your rejection.

sharing emotions

Bear in minds the odds of any application you make - don't stake everything on one or two 'perfect' opportunities, but rather apply to many: having options is valuable, and any option you choose, you will turn into a great experience. After all, to make one functional lightbulb, Edison made 1000 prototypes that did not work!

Finally, find the learnings in the experience. After any rejection, Take time to reflect and gather your thoughts before moving forward. Were there lessons in the experience for you? Could you improve your application, your resume or your interview skills? Should you tweak your aim to look at slightly different opportunities in future? Can you get feedback? By drawing out the learnings from any rejection, you develop your own resilience, at the same time as honing your job hunting.

And now, more than ever, resilience is a key skill, valued by businesses and even a core leadership skill in major businesses like Tesco. Try to reframe your story - if you were asked in an interview, or even over a networking drink with a prospective boss or colleague, to describe your experience, how could you phrase it - what did you take with you, what was valuable, what helped you grow as a person. Simply putting it like this can help you adjust your mindset.


And for those who have never experienced rejection...

Don't spend too long patting yourself on the back! The fact is, that if you're never rejected, you're probably still in your cozy comfort zone, and not sufficiently challenging yourself.

Rejection should be considered a badge of how much you're living your life, how hard you're pushing yourself and how high your ambitions are. Even Einstein, as a child, was told he would 'never amount to much', before going on to change the world! So if you've been rejected, you're in good company - get back out there, and good luck!

Never give up

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