Not The End Of The Road: How To Handle Professional Rejection It is important to learn strategies that help us protect our self-esteem and remedy the emotional pain rejection elicits.
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Living in a fast-paced cosmopolitan city can heighten the sensitivity we feel towards professional rejection, simply because it may entail more than a hit to our livelihood. The pressure of needing to make ends meet, along with attaching so much of our identity to titles, corporate hierarchies, and competitive salaries, and the consequent luxury and social recognition a job facilitates, would make professional rejection a shattering ordeal.
And even if we learn to separate our identities from our professional facades and all the glitz and glamor that come with that, the feeling of being rejected by whomever represents the company we are interested in working with still falls within the bracket of social rejection, and this is not something human beings process with ease.
Naomi Eisenberger, a social psychology professor at UCLA, and Kipling Williams, a psychology professor at Purdue University, found that the same pathways of the brain that light up when we experience physical pain, light up when we experience rejection– that's how painful it is! And why is it so painful? Because those who experienced the pain of being rejected were at an evolutionary advantage, as they were more likely to correct their behavior, and consequently, more likely to remain in the "tribe."
What motivates us to reject others? A perceived inadequacy, disadvantage, harmful behavior, lack of chemistry or incompatibility are just some of the reasons why we may see someone as unfit to team up with or to invite into our tribe. However, in a world full of socio-economic systems that do very little for the development and preservation of a healthy self-esteem, with fragmented family structures, meaningless social circles, and money-driven professions devoid of purpose, what we deem as threatening to our survival may be exacerbated by the circumstances, because, deep down, our core needs aren't met. As a result, it is only natural that our tendency to feel threatened, and, in turn, reject another, is compounded by the absence of inner fulfilment.
Adding to this is our natural inclination to refer to cognitive biases, whereby inferences about other people and situations are drawn in an illogical manner to speed up the process of making a decision, and minimize the risk of getting hurt and feeling bad about ourselves. These cognitive distortions are exaggerated by irrational thought patterns that cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately, such as catastrophizing, generalizing, black-and-white thinking, and mind reading. In other words, sometimes our reasons for rejecting others are built on inaccuracies and insecurities, rather than on valid reasons. For the sake of narrowing down the scope of scenarios relating to why we may reject others, here are a few examples of why someone might reject you professionally:
- Jealousy: Something about you struck an insecurity.
- Inferiority complex: You're a little too impressive.
- Dictatorial or narcissistic tendencies: You're not subservient enough.
- Biased: You conjured up a bad memory, and now you've been pigeonholed.
The reality is that decision making is a complex process, and there is a myriad of factors that influence it, but on a positive note, sometimes being rejected is a reflection of your greatness and uniqueness, and often has nothing to do with you personally.
So, how do we recover from rejection? Boosting our self-esteem can act as a buffer and help us become emotionally resilient when things go wrong. It is therefore important to learn strategies that help us protect our self-esteem and remedy the emotional pain rejection elicits. Here are a few examples of what we can do:
- Positive (and truthful) self-affirmation.
- Honest reflection and questioning of the validity of the wounds surfaced by rejection.
- Meaningful relationships for support to fall back on.
- Seeing rejection as a useful messenger, wake-up call or sign, i.e. a blessing in disguise.
- Healthy confidence boosting experiences to allow less room for negative self-talk.
- Recognizing that rejection is often not personal nor rational.
- Staying true to yourself and your purpose.
Being rejected by someone else is a little easier to handle when you're leading from the best place you could possibly lead from- your authentic truth. On a final note, mastering the art of recovering from rejection can equip us with a sense of resilience which is necessary for the realization of our ambitions. It's a hard lesson, but it is a strengthening one that pays off when we know how to benefit from it. And if we need proof, let us look no further than to Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Walt Disney, and even the genius himself, Albert Einstein. They have all been rejected- but look at how much they have achieved! Success doesn't look any better than that. As Bo Bennett said: "A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success."
Related: Unlocking Potential: Leila Almaeena, Founder, LA Coaching & Consulting