Question 5: How do you respond to rejection?
This question has been an interesting one as the first few responses I’ve received made it obvious that rejection is a broooaaad theme. There’s a plethora of areas where we might define the spectrum for rejection: friendships, work, family… The triggers are varied as well: do you feel a tinge of disappointment when someone has not responded to your messages? Or do you only get an uncomfortable knot in your tummy when a beloved one falling out with you? From how deep you desire the outcome to your beliefs and experiences, the world of ‘No’ gets painted with the colors of our personality.
When it comes to memorable responses, there were friends who focused primarily on romantic relationships or flirting — and the ones in my age bracket had already developed ways to cope and ride through this experience: grounding themselves, accepting that what seemed to converge was not sufficient to bond and that their unique journey continues no matter what. The uneasy struggle fades away when the meaning of the rejection is clarified: not a poisonous ivy clinging to your skin for the rest of your life but a poignant loss and a transient grief to be honored and set aside. The key insight for me here is that WE define what the rejection means — and what’s next will continue to evolve on our terms.
To be honest, I think this is quite straight forward in earlier stages of a relationship. The more vested you are, the closer you have let them in, rejection can get painful beyond measure. And the irony along with the beauty of intimacy is you can not build intimacy unless you’ve taken such a risk. Otherwise, we are denying the essentials.
Moving onto everyday rejections in business and social settings, I was very touched by a friend’s crystal clear understanding of how she operates. She made a distinction between her inner response and how she responds externally. Her inner response is close to sadness and at times leading to self-doubt and self-blame whereas she managed to ‘keep it cool and exit the scene nicely’ on the outside. I believe this is the sign for a wise and compassionate character : putting the distance in between herself and the person, herself and the situation, herself and the story.
In a way, I related this with meta-thinking : as she explores what this ‘actually’ means for her in her heart and mind, distance makes this process possible. She is not fighting with the thought, she is not reacting to the story — it is almost fascinating how that space transforms the experience. Pain is there, but drama and suffering is kept at bay.
Looking inward personally, I noticed I used to have quite a hard time to let that space in scenarios of rejection. At times, I was confiding in my close circle before things got unberarable. My story reflected in our conversations was a soft cushion of comfort when things were raw on the outside. As I get older, adult agendas crept in as well as living abroad. Through the tougher adventures, I built a ‘library’ of trusted perspectives : not limited to my beloved humans in person or on a screen but also a community of authors, storytellers and wise ones. As soon as the rush of the moment subsides, I find peace inside myself. When I stumble, I find peace in this library of human stories. Evolving every day till forever.
Just like my friend does with the distance, I arrive at the moment where I approve myself again and again. The heaviness lifts, I feel the glow of so many great moments where my primal need for approval has been met. I dwell in its warmth : approving yourself does not mean denying what you can do better next time, it is more of an acceptance of who you are and opening yourself to the ease of that imprint.
Once we approve ourselves, the path ahead is paved with this ease. The binary struggle is softer to look at, with fresh and even inviting colours.