I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more of a fool not afraid of rejection.
– Billy Joel
You aren’t attractive enough. You aren’t smart enough. You aren’t cool enough. You aren’t man enough. Your idea won’t work. You’re too short. You’re too tall. You’re too chunky. You don’t have enough money. I already have a boyfriend. I’m not looking for a relationship right now. I’m really busy this week. But we should totally hang out some time!
Rejection sucks. It’s like being told you just aren’t up to snuff–better luck next time. But does it have to be this way? Why are we so afraid of rejection? Is our fear rational? How different would your life be if you could learn to not only tolerate rejection, but embrace it?
It turns out you can. In fact, if you are willing to experience rejection on a massive scale, you will give yourself the opportunity to do more fulfilling work, make a lot more money, and have much greater choice in your social and love life.
Why We Fear Rejection
Have you ever watched the way a three-year-old interacts with the world?
I was talking to a gorgeous redhead in the park the other day, and this little kid walked up to her right in the middle of our conversation and started talking to her. He was completely enamoured with her. He started rolling around on the ground and impressing her with toddler gymnastics. He took a swig of her water bottle. He had her smiling and laughing. He was amusing himself. And he didn’t give a fuck that I was there.
We are not born with a fear of rejection. We are taught it. It emerges from that collection of rationalizations that we develop about ourselves called the ego.
“Ego” is a Latin word meaning “I”. When we refer to our “identity”, what we’re really referring to is our ego. It’s the part of our brain where our labels are stored: “hard-working”, “dependable”, “honest”, “trustworthy”, “intelligent”, “attractive”, “overachiever”, and so on. The ego is also the mediator between our primal instincts, our moral standards, and the outside world. It helps us relate to one another and stay out of trouble.
But while the ego keeps us out of jail, it can become a prison of its own. The downside of being labelled “intelligent” or “attractive” or “hard-working” is that our ego requires constant reinforcement of this identity.
But how can you be “intelligent” if your boss just shot down what you thought was the most original idea you had all year? How can you be “attractive” if you just got blown out by that girl? And surely you can’t call yourself “good at what you do” when you just sent out 20 CVs and didn’t even get a single response!
To the ego, rejection is the ultimate menace.
How Fear of Rejection Affects You
Take a moment to consider how much you’re being held back by fear of rejection.
How many times have you simply given up looking for a certain type of work because you got so discouraged by the lack of response?
How many times have you seen a beautiful girl, that you wished you had the guts to talk to, but just couldn’t because you were afraid of being snubbed?
How often do you avoid striking up conversation with people–guys or girls–out of concern that they might not like you?
I recently went through a period of a few months where I felt like I was living in a “self-induced repression”. I was so afraid of rejection that I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to strangers. I was blocking my own path. My fear of rejection resulted in a self-imposed celibacy.
And every guy with a high-speed internet connection knows what that means.
How to Overcome Fear of Rejection
The way to overcome fear of rejection is: Don’t try to overcome it. Instead, condition yourself to take action in spite of the fear. If you’re afraid to say hi to the girl, just say hi to her anyway. If you’re worried that your idea might not fly with management, and you might look like an idiot, just say what you need to say. Stand up for your own truth.
This kind of exposure therapy is useful for at least three reasons. First, it teaches you that rejection is just not that bad. If the girl ignores you, who cares? If you send 20 CVs and get no response, so what? Second, it helps desensitize you to what is an entirely imagined problem anyway. And third, it creates opportunities. Just because you say hi to some girl doesn’t mean you’ll end up spending the evening together in lustful embrace. But if you do nothing, you’ll definitely be going home alone.
To give you some perspective, the ratio of girls I approach to girls I ultimately go on a date with is about 25:1. And, when I was doing software consulting, my ratio of CVs sent to signing a contract–for a good rate, doing work that interested me–was about 40:1.
Embracing Rejection vs. Giving Up Easily
Of course, “embracing rejection” doesn’t mean “giving up easily”. It just means fully accepting and acting congruently with the idea that you decide your worth. It means getting out of your own way, and giving yourself permission to live life on your own terms, instead of being controlled by other people’s responses.
Sometimes “No” just means you haven’t yet given the other person enough reasons to say “Yes”. But other times, no really means no. You have to rely on your intuition to sort out which is which.
So, take Billy Joel’s advice and be “more of a fool”. Embracing rejection will improve your quality of life.
I’d like to end this article by saying thank you to all the “early adopters” of this blog. In the last two weeks, this blog has been read by almost 20,000 people from 115 countries. The primary purpose of this blog is to help others grow, and to give me a place to share what I’ve learned about life so far, in the hopes that others may benefit. It’s encouraging to have this kind of reach this early on.
I know these numbers are small potatoes for some, but for me it’s a sign that I’m off to a good start.
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