How to Deal With Rejection

Life throws us curveballs.

Being alive means you’ve received some sort of rejection at some point in your life. Maybe it’s from a college or a job or even a person you’ve shown interest in.

Rejections happen.

They’re a big part of life.

And yet for some reason, schools don’t teach us how to deal with them.

So how do we deal with rejection?

1.Prime your mind prior to the rejection. This is a step a lot of people miss but it is done at the application stage. I don’t know if it’s overconfidence or self-love, but I find it fascinating when people get so confident about getting a job even before they go for the interview.

I’m a realist and I’m a scientist, and there are two words that have considerably changed my mindset…and they come from the Steve Jobs movie…

Manage your expectations…

I love the thought process behind managing expectations simply because it’s fun and practical. You manage expectations by coming up with probabilities on every single possible outcome based on empirical data. Of course, anything can be used as empirical data; other people’s anecdotes and cautionary tales are a big source for major life events.

It’s never exact, but the idea is to be absolutely open to the complete range of results instead of planning your life on a single result and then feeling like a lost log in the middle of the ocean if it doesn’t come into being.

A friend once asked if I don’t set myself up for failure that way…

The truth is, no. Just because you’re mentally prepared for something to fail doesn’t mean you’re setting yourself up for failure.

You hope for the best but plan for the worse.

There are some situations where you really don’t have any statistics or anecdotes, so just cut it down the middle and assume a 50–50 chance of success. Some things happen and some things do not.

Once you get the hang of this thought process, you actually start to realize everything is a numbers game and the more you hustle, the greater your chances of success.

Of course, the more you hustle, the more rejections you’ll get so….

2.Let it sting. You can reframe the experience. You can mentally tell yourself whatever story about it being for the best, but it will hurt. So give yourself time to process the pain. It can be 5 seconds or 5 weeks. Whatever it is, give yourself a deadline where you can talk about it, sift it for life lessons learnt and then…

3. Move on. Moving on doesn’t mean sitting at home and thinking about moving on. Moving on means getting up, going out and doing something new; get a new haircut, start a new project, meet new people.

A useful approach is to always have at least 7 projects going on in your life so when a few of them get rejected, you still have other things to focus on. How you define your projects are up to you.

The key to resilience is flexibility.

As I wrote previously about Adam Grant’s commencement speech, we should define our lives broadly enough that we can find new ways to pursue them when our first and second plans fail. Unfortunately, a lot of us define our lives in such narrow terms that when something goes wrong in that area, we’re left running around like headless chicken.

4.Don’t dwell on the rejection so much.Dwelling on the rejection has two effects; it makes you more likely to ruminate and can lead to depression, but it also chips away at your self-esteem and you’re less likely to try again because you don’t want to get hurt the same way. Maybe you start telling yourself, “I’m really stupid. My work sucks. Everybody hates me.”

Which makes me of a line one of my professors used to say when it comes to grades and it was something like, “Just remember that I’m not grading you as a person but I’m grading the paper you gave me.”

And I loved that because a lot of young students measured their self-worth by their grades. Just because you get A’s in school doesn’t make you an A person, and I would know because I was an A student in high school and I sucked as a person.

I still do but at least am working on it.


So don’t take the rejection personally, unless the person specifically mentioned it’s personal. So when someone says, “It’s not you, it’s me, please do yourself a favor and believe them. Okay, we all know half the time they’re lying, but believe them just for your own sanity.

And when it comes to jobs and universities, selection is done based on so many different factors that you have zero control over. Think of it like this; they’re looking for a certain profile and you don’t fit the profile. It has nothing to do with you. It’s more like, their idea of a profile sucks.

You’re awesome.

Move on.

I personally love this anecdote from Howard Schultz’s book, Pour Your Heart Into It. In case you’re one of the six people who don’t know who Howard Schultz, he’s the guy who made Starbucks a worldwide phenomenon. His first store was called Il Giornale and when he was trying to raise money for it, this is what happened;

“In the course of the year I spent trying to raise money, I spoke to 242 people, and 217 of them said no. Try to imagine how disheartening it can be to hear that many times why your idea is not worth investing in. … It was a very humbling time.”

Can you imagine that?

217 rejections…

I’m going to be honest and say I don’t think I would have had the emotional capacity for 217 rejections.

5.Get used to rejection. There’s a guy called Jia Jiang who wanted to desensitize himself from the pain of rejection, so he did a bunch of random stuff just to invite rejection. Surprisingly, some of his random requests were not rejected. You can see the whole list here…He also gave a TED talk about it.

Last but not least, rejections make interesting stories once you get accepted (sometimes even before you get accepted), so you can document the rejection, add a little humor to it and save it just for its story value.

As I was writing the post below, I found myself wishing I have a time machine so the 14-year-old me could read this so if you know a 14-year-old who have no idea how to deal with rejection, do them a favor and forward this to them or share it on facebook.
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