Being an author, business leader, and all-around lifelong risk taker, rejection has been an omnipresent, sometimes ominous, partner in my life — mostly unwanted yet always revealing. Now that I’m older and have survived my fair share of rejection, I’ve come to embrace it as a valuable indicator of one of two things: A beacon illuminating a new path or a rumble meant to test my internal drive.
Rejection as a Critical Warning
In business, rejection comes in multiple forms even in times of great momentum, ample resources, and highly attuned, engaged employees. It could be a project stalled. A team member suddenly disengaged. A plan hopelessly complex. A budget undermined by economic fallout. An idea with no energy around it.
At the start of my career, I took these as MASSIVE frustrations and employed my pile-driving “Type A” techniques to try and break-down, fast-track, roll-over, and/or out-wit the offending obstacle. Rejection in the form of persistent resistance was something I felt only occurred when a deficiency existed in myself or the plan, concept, strategy, you-name-it. And success would occur if I could just implement a fix to overcome the obstacle. Not so much.
Truth is, 9 out of 10 times, rejections were due to extenuating forces that had nothing to do with the validity, cleverness, or implementation of the effort itself. Instead, ideas didn’t work when they were ill-timed. Strategies didn’t pan out when there was a shift coming around the corner that would change everything. Relationships stalled when we were coming together for the wrong reasons. Turns out, rejection was the universe’s way of saying, “Not now. Something else needs to happen first.” And when I learned to listen to the resistance and let go of preconceived outcome, the organization hardly missed a beat in our cadence of growth. No longer were there such things as a “bad idea” or “failed strategy”. Instead, simply instincts and ideas ahead of their time.
Rejection as a Badge of Honor
But what about personal rejection? The kind an artist faces down every day/week/month? Is rejection a sign that you’re misguided and should drop everything? To this, I say “Absolutely not!”
There’s a key difference between manifesting a vision that lives only within us versus manifesting a vision on behalf of others. A business doing well, a client turning customer, a perfectly orchestrated event are all things you may be passionate about but, in the end, they are efforts either done on behalf of others or to benefit ego and circumstance. However, impacting the world via personal passion is quite different as egoic intentions fall to the wayside and is made distinct in its ability to survive and thrive without spark from the outside world.
For endeavors of this nature, rejection transforms from Critical Warning to Badge of Honor. Rather than acting as a guide that seeks to divert us from our coveted aspirations, rejection serves as a sign that we aren’t playing small. That we are taking risks.
And should the day come when we can no longer stomach rejection (even after our usual short-term spiral into self-doubt), then it’s likely our passion has shifted elsewhere. Possessing the desire to exercise one’s passion should never depend wholeheartedly on another person’s approval. If it does, it has moved from an internally driven passion to an outward driven aspiration. BIG difference as it’s here that the role of rejection shifts from Badge of Honor to Critical Warning. To interpret rejection appropriately, we must understand which locus we are driving from.
When we look at rejection, we have a choice in how we frame it:
Is it an irritating and persistent fact of life that we all have to suffer through again, and again, and AGAIN?
Or… is it the universe whispering to us that something better may await us if we were to stop forcing our will upon it? Or, perhaps, it’s a thoughtful gesture intended to test our passion so we can confirm or adjust?
Having lived this long, I now know that rejection is serving as a Critical Warning when I:
- Am in a relationship that just won’t fire or is constantly mired down in difficulty,
- Am pushing a plan forward while being met with constant obstacles and set-backs,
- Am selling an idea that can’t find an audience,
- Am writing on a topic and the words won’t come.
In those cases, I drop back, ease off, and ask myself, “What else wants to happen here?” By pausing, I can see if another opportunity awaits. If nothing arises and my gut still screams to move forward then I do. But! I change approach. Often adopting the same curious standpoint but this time turning the question outward to see if there’s a nuance I have missed that could change everything.
And when engaged in one of my passions, rejection serves as a Badge of Honor when I:
- Am told by a publisher that I’m not a good fit,
- Am passed over as “not celebrity enough” for an event,
- Am asked to come back when I’ve earned a Ph.D,
- Am told to rewrite an article incorporating more “corporate-ese” mumbo jumbo.
In those cases, I ask myself, “Do I want to keep going?” And if the answer is an emphatic “Heck YES!!!” then I do. And I pat myself on the back for having taken another risk big enough to experience rejection.
Here’s to you finding your own badges of honor (I have an entire wardrobe full of them!) and for hearing the messages hidden within any form of rejection. When we embrace rejection as an ally in our journey, the path becomes much friendlier to travel.
What experiences have you had with rejection? And what was the message delivered to you?