Overcoming Rejection: A Personal Journey
After writing my article, "Seth Godin on Why You Can't Wait to Get Noticed" about succeeding as a business owner, I started to reflect. I shared some lessons I learned a long time ago and again recently by reading Seth Godin's new book, The Icarus Deception (Portfolio, 2013).
But I want to tell a fuller story with some confessions and embarrassing truths with the hope that this helps at least one person.
One reason to "pick yourself" instead of "waiting to get picked" by someone else is:
No one is going to pick you.
For me, waiting to get picked always conjures up painful memories of the elementary school playground. I was in 5th grade and loved to play sports, especially basketball. The problem was that I hadn't hit my growth spurt yet and was one of the shortest kids on the court. I usually got picked last or not at all when we split up teams.
It's sad to admit but more than 30 years later I'm still kind of angry with Mr. Hamblin, the PE coach, who mocked me because I was in his words, "too short to play" in the coveted teachers vs. students basketball game on the last day of the school year.
This and other times of rejection left me feeling frustrated and misunderstood. I was pretty good at sports (by 5th grade standards) but I was being judged solely on my height. I often sat on the sidelines feeling defeated with resentment and great contempt for tall people.
This pattern continued on into high school and although I worked hard to earn a spot on the varsity team in three different sports, I was often ignored or given limited playing time by coaches who preferred to play the bigger kids who were in their minds "a sure thing" to win games.
In business I continue to experience the feeling of being ignored, passed over, exploited, rejected and being treated unfairly all the time. I have felt defeated and wondered where my friends were when I needed them most.
I have felt desperate and alone. I have felt the resentment and contempt for those in power who didn't pick me after nailing the job interview, or after years of thankless service, or for well-deserved promotion.
I confess that I've held grudges -- even for things that are ancient history. During my darkest moments when I lost sight of hope, I was so miserable that I was tempted to blame others or outside circumstances for my misfortune, real or perceived, to the point that I wanted to retaliate and seek revenge.
I've heard it said that "holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." It's true, I've had a taste of it.
Here's what I've learned:
Some people, like Coach Hamblin, suck. Yes, we will be treated unfairly by unforeseen circumstances or people -- deliberately or without malice -- and neither way is fun. But we shouldn't be surprised when adversity or rejection come, nor allow the applause or lack of, to determine our worth. This is the journey we're on.
The path that used to be safe and secure -- that cushy, high-paying job at the glamorous brand or position that is never in jeopardy of being downsized -- is gone. At any moment the tightrope you're walking on can get cut out from under you. And there's no safety net.
Whether you work for someone else and love it or spend your days sending out resumes, there's comfort in knowing that there's an alternate choice: Pick yourself.
Don't waste time playing to an audience who couldn't care less about your tune. Don't waste another breath of air trying to convince the unconvinced. There's a danger after you've been rejected so many times -- tell me if this sounds familiar:
You want to crawl under a rock and stop trying.
You start believing the critics or crickets and settle for less.
You get mad or resentful every time you hear the word "no" feeling undervalued and unappreciated.
You sabotage relationships or opportunities by rejecting them before they reject you as a defense mechanism.
You start using those in power as the scapegoat or excuse for your less-than-awesome output or performance.
Don't do this. Don't give them power by giving in. Keep your chin up, find the right audience or do better work until you get noticed. Never quit.
Seth Godin said this in The Icarus Deception:
"Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out permission, authority and safety that come from someone who says, 'I pick you.' Once you reject the impulse and realize that no one is going to select you -- that Prince Charming has chosen another house in his search for Cinderella -- then you can actually get to work."