Over the past few weeks, all the articles I pitched to online publications got rejected.
All the influencers I reached out to have either declined my proposals for collaboration or said nothing at all. My Youtube channel gained a dazzling total of 9 subscribers, and I got more negative responses to my articles on Medium than ever before.
I have long ago accepted the fact that stuff like building a business or pursuing my dreams takes a lot of effort — as well as the occasional moments of despair. However, the thought that has kept me from doing things in fear of being rejected for most of my life was this:
“What will other people think?”
What worried me the most about failing in business or getting rejected by my crush was the way other people would perceive me — the thought of having someone seeing me fall felt worse than the pain caused by the fall itself.
For a long time, however, I didn’t even know I felt that way. I thought I didn’t care about other people’s opinions, and when I heard of books like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck I felt a sense of relief inside me that said “Now there’s something I don’t need to read. At least I’ve got that covered.”
But it turns out that it was all bullshit. After all, wearing weird clothes and telling the occasional controversial joke didn’t mean I was immune to other people’s judgments. More than that: not only did I care about what others thought about me, it turns out it was actually the biggest obstacle keeping me from taking risks.
Just Do It.
Currently, there is still nothing that feels more hurtful to me than knowing that someone else pities me.
Every time I send in a pitch to a publication, I imagine the editors thinking “This one again? What a loser.” Every time I reach out to influences with whom I would like to collaborate, I picture them skimming through my message with indifference and despise — and a tiny hint of pity.
Every time I read a hateful comment on stuff I publish on Youtube or Medium, I feel myself becoming smaller, and my first instinct is to spend the rest of the day drinking hot chocolate and watching Lord of the Rings in bed.
But despite of those feelings, I still do it. I still write articles and hit the send button. I still show my face and my feelings and my struggles on camera. I still tweet people with a thousand times more followers than me. Over, and over, and over again. Why?
Because not doing it would make me feel like shit.
Not doing it would make me obsess about it for the rest of the day; instead of fearing what others would think about me, I would hate every thought that I would have about myself.
But that’s not the only reason.
Why Does Rejection Hurt?
It’s not that I stopped caring about what others think. I still do. The difference is that now I don’t let it drag me down: instead, I do something with it.
However, this is only one of the challenges people face when dealing with rejection. The truth is, there are countless other reasons why receiving a ‘no’ often feels as painful as a stab in the heart:
1. We feel like we are not enough. “If they said no, there must be something wrong with me.”
2. It takes effort to be resilient, and repeated rejections have the power to drain away our motivation like a vampire sucking out our blood.
3. When rejection hits hard, it can shake our very belief that we will ever be able to even try again, and our despair for acceptance might become blinding and overwhelming.
Actually, fMRI studies prove that the when we get rejected, the same areas in the brain become activated as when we feel physical pain. It’s not only in our mind: rejection can have real impact on our well-being, and consequently our success in various fields of life.
That is, if we don’t know how to deal with it.
Two Ways to Deal with Rejection
You have probably heard this a million times before, but here it goes:
Rejection is a gift. It’s an opportunity to learn resilience, which might well be the most important asset when it comes to being successful.
But how to actually do use it productively?
A bit more than one year ago — when I started my own business — something changed in my reaction to being rejected.
Whereas before I would get demotivated and embarrassed to let others see how I felt, I realized that instead of giving up what I was doing and quickly moving on to yet another unsuccessful project, I could just face the rejection and turn it into something productive.
But there is more: not only could I choose to use it as a weapon for growth, I also found that there was more than one way to go about it.
Way #1: Name It ‘Till You Own It
In 2015, a group of researchers conducted a study which proves that, unlike what many of us may think, facing our challenging emotions with full awareness can be much more effective in overcoming rejection than pretending it didn’t happen and ‘moving on’.
The study shows that people who are able to describe their emotions in more detail show less neural reactivity to rejection, simply because they can transform their unpleasant experiences into useful information which they can use to take further action.
How does that show in practical terms? Let’s take a look at this example: a few months ago, two friends of mine saw their relationships ending against their will. However, one of them was much better at the skill of emotional differentiation, and that had a direct impact on how he turned the situation around:
“After my girlfriend left me, I just couldn’t cope. I can’t explain what I felt, it was just terrible. I have never fully recovered.”
“After my girlfriend left me, I felt a deep sadness. But then the sadness turned into anger, and the anger into guilt. That made me realize that I hadn’t been dedicating as much time to our relationship as I wanted to. So I made a point to change that, and that has completely changed my relationships since then.”
Sometimes getting a rejection email will barely affect me, but other times it can make me feel so overwhelmed that I even cry. When that happens, it’s usually because I feel exhausted, so I know the best thing to do is take a moment to rest before I move on.
Sometimes I feel frustrated, and then I know it’s time to focus on a different task for a while. Other times I feel furious (emails that begin with the word ‘unfortunately’ usually make me go crazy), and other times powerless (and that’s when I know it’s time to remind myself of all the possibilities I have to move on from there).
To summarize, the key here is to pay attention to what you’re feeling. Perhaps asking yourself “When was the last time I felt this way?” can help you find some answers and patterns.
Knowledge is power — in this case, power to understand yourself and use the emotions you are feeling as a tool to help you become stronger.
Way #2: Push it ‘Till You Break It
I know, sometimes it’s not so easy to look our emotions straight in the face. It takes a lot of strength to observe and accept our painful feelings, and being rejected often blows away that strength like a piece of paper in the midst of a storm.
It is during those times that we are at our most vulnerable state. Therefore, it’s in those moments that we often turn to to our default coping mechanisms (emotional eating, self-destructing talk and getting lost in pointless online articles are my personal weak spots).
When I just can’t find the strength to grab the bull by the horns and face the demons inside me, my opinion is that it’s still better to positively act on the situation instead of falling for those self-destructive behaviors.
Therefore, when that happens, I just take immediate action to change the course of the situation.
I either give myself a shot of positivity (I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but theatrically lip-syncing to The Final Countdown with my living room as a stage still does it for me every single time) or I give myself a drastic change of perspective:
“If I die tomorrow, who gives a shit if that not-really-famous-guy didn’t reply to my tweet?”
In those situations, the key for me is to push myself to the surface before I let myself drown:
I watch Gary Vaynerchuck’s motivational videos on Youtube. I go for a power run while listening to M.I.A. I slap myself in the face to wake up, or I treat myself to a hot bath and write gratitude lists to show my inner child how much I love her. I make love to my partner. I read through my goals, make myself a cup of coffee, or simply breath in and out through my nose without breaks for 15 minutes.
And the list goes on and on.
I know that what I’m saying might sound contradictory after that whole talk about observing and listening to your feelings, but it’s not. This second technique is only a last resort, a ‘do it before you realize’ it kind of solution, which I only apply in case I see that the alternative is self-harmful behavior or a depressing desire to quit.
In the end…
…the point is to take action. Sometimes, action takes the shape of awareness and stillness, and other times it’s all about spilling a bucket of cold water down your head to help you take those crucial final steps towards the finish line.
Whenever I take a moment to think, I realize that the reason why my life is so amazing is because I keep on trying. After receiving thousands of ‘no’s and still persevering, I have a fulfilling relationship, I spend my life traveling, I work on my own business, and I get to do the things I love the most every single day of my life.
Sure, there is still plenty of space to grow. I can make more money. I can learn how to love better. I can grow faster, build bigger, and be a thousand times stronger.
But the distance between that place and where I am now might well be defined by the number of rejections I still have to face; and all that matters, is to brace myself, prepare, and respond when the time comes.