When you’re a kid, rejection is hard, whether it’s those mean girls who won’t let you sit at their table, or the drama teacher who didn’t cast you in the 10th grade musical. As you get older, you might start to get used to being turned down; there are only so many colleges that can waitlist you and crushes who want to stay in the friend zone before it sinks in your head: OK, not everyone likes me. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Especially when the rejection is not being hired for your dream job, which you’d built up in your head as “the perfect professional environment to cultivate my skills while contributing to a growth-oriented culture” — at least, that’s how you’d phrased it in your cover letter. “We’re going to pass,” the recruiter emailed you. Ouch, indeed!
In fact, our brains register rejection (even if it’s done nicely) the same way they do physical pain, according to a study by the University of Michigan, which analyzed brain MRIs of people who had been turned down. “We found that powerfully inducing feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation, which are rarely activated in neuroimaging studies of emotion,” lead author Ethan Kross stated. So when you’re truly agonizing over being told “no,” how do you pick yourself up and dust yourself off, so you can go at it for another round?
Use rejection as an opportunity to reassess your goals
As much as rejection hurts, it’s also a rare chance to be honest with yourself. Take stock of why you didn’t make the cut and assess whether you were putting your best foot forward. Do a mental replay of the job interview, the date, the audition — whatever it was that didn’t go your way — and consider whether there was anything you wish you’d done differently. “The value in that examination is to learn what we might need to be mindful of what we hadn’t paid sufficient attention to previously,” psychologist Guy Winch told Oprah.
After you’ve gone through that exercise, though, move on. “The most important thing we need to do to heal the emotional wound rejection creates is to revive our self-esteem by focusing on what we do bring to the table, whether the rejection was by a romantic partner, a prospective employer, or a neighbor,” noted Dr. Winch. For example, if it’s a job rejection you’re reeling from, take the time to make a list of why you would have been an asset to that company. “We might list our strong work ethic, responsibility, reliability, our steep learning curve, etc.,” Winch said. Next, he suggested choosing one of these qualities and think about the times previous employers saw the value in it. “By writing, we remind ourselves on a deep level that we are, and can be, a valuable employee,” he explained.
Learn how to view rejection as a gift
If you were to think about everything in your life that did work out well, you likely had some doors that were closed in your face that forced you on your current path. Would you have met your best friends if you’d gotten into your first-choice college? If you hadn’t been dumped, would you have ever moved to a new city where you found your first great job? The same bodes for the hurt you’re currently nursing.
“The reason that rejection feels so personal is because it stands against our expectations. On some level, we feel that we know exactly what we need to succeed and be happy in this world, and when that desire isn’t met, it can be crushing,” self-improvement writer Melyssa Griffin wrote in her blog. “But what we often fail to realize is that there is a world out there with a multitude of possibilities.” It’s not unlikely that what lies ahead for you indeed is going to be better than what you’d initially set your sights on. So take a bath, eat some chocolate, blast some angry music … then get back at it!
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