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“Putting myself out there for the first time in ten years – I’m terrified,” a 50-something manager said to me recently. “At my age, the prospect of rejection feels overwhelming.” I could hear the pain in her voice. She’d been with her company a decade before a change in management put her out of work. At her level of seniority and pay, it would take several months to find another position that was a good fit. That will probably mean a few “thanks but no thanks” responses along the way.
Fear of rejection permeates our psyche in all aspects of our life. It’s scary to meet new people, ask someone out on a date, or ask for a raise. So scary, in fact, that many of us don’t ever pursue what we really want; fear of rejection can actually lock you into a life you don’t want and don’t enjoy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. “The power of a rejection is only as strong as you decide it should be. Two people can be rejected for the same thing: one person takes it personally and gives up; the other says, “Okay, who’s next?” and keeps going. You have to keep going if you want to break free.” That’s from the book by Scott Allan, called Rejection Free: How to Choose Yourself First and Take Charge of Your Life by Confidently Asking for What You Want.
Allan admits that he used to take rejection personally. He bought into the fact that if someone rejected him, it meant that there was something wrong with him. But that’s simply one of what he called “lies we tell ourselves.” In fact, he says, “in many situations we are rejected for reasons beyond our control that has more to do with the other person. The person rejecting you has his or her own personal reasons that extend beyond us.”
One of the ways he repositions rejection is to think of it as “preferencing” instead of rejecting. You don’t reject the ham sandwich; you simply prefer the turkey sandwich today. That doesn’t make the ham sandwich any less worthy. Today is just a turkey kind of day.
What if you could think of all rejections that way, including losing out on job opportunities? How much more bold would you be in your job search, your personal life, or in pursuing your wildest dreams?
Allan does a great job of explaining how your early life forms your reactions to rejection. If your family was critical or you had a bad high school experience, your lizard brain begins to panic when you think you’ve made a mistake or are about to be rejected. “You need to differentiate between the projections others put on you and what is actual fact,” Allen writes. You have a choice of what to believe and how to react.
When we get stuck in a pattern of trying to please other people, we only make ourselves miserable. Especially if we’re trying to mend a pattern that’s buried deep in your past: trying to finally be good enough for your parents, your teachers, a coach… it can never be fixed. “As long as you are trying to fulfill the expectations you think others have, you’re still living the same pattern over and over,” he writes. You are trying to recreate what you failed at in the past. Only now, instead of trying to make someone else happy— which you know is impossible— you have put the pressure on yourself.”
In future posts, I’ll help you understand how to think differently about rejection and move past fear.