Ugh, the R word, rejection. When I talk to friends and clients, and when I dig down to my own motivations and rationales, so often there is, at bottom, a fear of being rejected, of not being liked, of being left, or being laughed at and thought foolish, or being deemed unlovable, unworthy, or thinking those things ourselves. There it is, right? One of the big ones, the big fears, the ideas that keep us up at night and make us want to stay in bed in the morning, just the same in adulthood as they did when we were in middle school. If I dare to ____________, I will be rejected.
We don’t want that – and hey, we’re only human. Our need for inclusion in the group is totally natural, evolutionarily reasonable, time tested and thorough. And so when we sense that possible rejection (whether we are right or not), we shrink. We shrink from possibility. We shrink from inspiration. We shrink from the limitlessness of our capacity because we are afraid we will no longer be loved, be included, be deemed worthy, be part of the group, be allowed to sit by the fire when the nights are cold and the days are difficult. We shrink from who we could be. We shrink from who we would be. We shrink from who we ARE already.
I heard a story on the TED radio hour (during a long car drive, so I didn’t get all of the details) about a man who decided he’d had enough of his overwhelming fear of rejection. He set out to intentionally get rejected, as an exercise of facing his fear and reducing the meaning of each rejection because he knew that many more had already happened and many more would come. What he discovered is that rejection was not nearly as wounding as he thought, and that when he was SURE he would be rejected, his request was met with curious agreement. In other words, he got a WHOLE lot of what he asked for, even though he really didn’t expect to. But those surprises really weren’t the point. The point was to reduce the sting of rejection.
Our reaction to rejection is complicated, and it is SO far reaching. She said she wasn’t interested. She didn’t ask me to collaborate. He didn’t call. He didn’t laugh when I thought I was funny. We take ALL of that and we make it mean the worst things we can think of. We interpret their “no’s” as more than just: “No, not that specifically, not now.” There are a variety of problems with all of this interpreting.
Firstly, what if most people are being upfront and honest and what they really mean is only: “No, not that specifically, not now”? What if we took the risk of taking adults at their word so that we can get on with things, so that we can be told “no” without it shaking us to the core, so that it doesn’t have to mean that lack of interest in one project is a statement about worth and value? What if we just decided to ONLY hear what is being said without filling in all of the spaces? If that’s a groundbreaking idea for you, I suggest you run at it full speed right away.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what would happen if we remembered that, as Brooke Castillo says, adults get to do what they want? What does this mean in this context? It means someone gets to say “No” to you without it being a major drama. And you know why that’s really great? There’s more than one reason: 1) it means you won’t be stuck in some weird relationship or project with someone who doesn’t want to be there; 2) it means when someone says no, that’s the end of the transaction, no leftover trails or wanderings – it’s just a simple no; and finally 3) you also get to say no when you want to and therefore you get to curate the way you spend your time, the projects you are involved in, the e-mails you receive, heck just about anything – without, that’s right WITHOUT drama or interpretation on the part of the other adults involved. If we decide that saying NO doesn’t mean everything when people say it to us, it’s reasonable to conclude that it doesn’t mean everything when we say it to them.
The interesting thing is that stepping out enough to risk rejection might bring on some rejection – I don’t want to lie about that – but it also brings SO much freedom. You can be yourself. You can see who stays, who goes, and you can take some of those “No’s” as surface, minute, and temporary, just as they are meant.
You can take the chance on showing up, showing you, being seen, and in my experience so far, the people who matter most will not only sill be here, but will be delighted to SEE you. And others will show up; your tribe will find you. You will not have to sit away from the fire, in the cold dark night. You will be at home, as yourself, with people who love who you really are. What are you NOT doing because you’re sure you’ll lose them all? What are you still doing to stay safe and warm, even if it means you are not even a little bit yourself? What would it take for me to get you to try a little rejection? I’ll talk you through it.