“No, thank you,” she said and even though I know better, I STILL felt a little sting, that sting of rejection. When I think about it in my wise brain, I know that not everyone will like everything I do. In fact, I’m quite sure there will be plenty of people who won’t like anything I do and my wise self tells me that’s okay. That last bit there, that’s the part I struggle with sometimes.
And I think that struggle is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that, just like most humans, I want to be liked. I want the things that I do to be liked, and I want to please the people around me. I am a recovering people pleaser (with the caveat that there are some people who I’ve never once tried to please and I’m sure they would have liked a little more than that). I think I’ve moved steadily from wanting to please others, be the good girl, shine like a little star sticker in a piano music book TO just wanting to not be actively disliked (like it’s okay if you don’t think I’m the bees knees, but please don’t hate me or be mean) TO realizing that how you feel about me is your business and I and everyone around me are best served by my staying out of that and being the best me I can be. Sounds like a nice steady progression, right? But just like any growth, the motion is not always purely linear. We can be mostly mature about something and still have flashes of 7 year old. I really still would like a gold star every now and then.
The second reason I think my reaction to being refused is interesting is because in that reaction I show that somehow I’ve made everything I do/create/write/make the same thing as me. If someone rejects, dislikes, doesn’t LOVE something I’ve put out in the world, they are rejecting ME (in this way of thinking). That’s ridiculous. When I turn the tables, I can think of plenty of people who make/write/create/share things that I’m not wild about even though I really like the people. I’m sure they have an audience for their stuff; I’m just not a member.
So given that my wise self knows better, why the sting of rejection?
And THAT is when it really becomes intensely personal, which is to say that it is ALL about me and what’s going on in my head. The sting of the rejection has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with what it triggers in me. What do I make that rejection mean?
“I knew it wouldn’t work.”
“I was afraid of this.”
“Nobody’s going to want this thing.”
Those are just warm-ups; hang on for the big guns…
“Why can’t I get this right?”
“Why did I think I could do this?”
“I’m nowhere near good enough to pull this off.”
“I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”
“Maybe I should look into grad school…”
And still better…
“Nothing I do works out.”
“Everyone else has it all worked out. I never will.”
“There must be something wrong with me.”
“I am not enough.”
If I let it, my brain can go from offering someone my work to crippling self-doubt in three steps. And the most important part of that sentence is the first part, the “If I let it.” A mentor of mine refers to the unobserved brain as a toddler with a knife. That brain will think and think and think and think, and it will think you into very safe corners that you most likely have no desire to inhabit, if you let it. If you choose to let your brain interpret the world as it chooses rather than the way that you choose.
When I choose to observe my descent into self-doubt, I can see it with compassion. And then, I can challenge it. “Really? One ‘no’ is evidence of your lack of worth?” I get a little loud with my brain sometimes. Other times: “There, there. I see you’re upset and I know this all feels big and real, so go have a cry if you need to and then we’ll talk about what’s actually going on here. Just take a minute. I’ll wait.” There will be plenty of opportunities to use both of these approaches.
Because rejection comes in so many shapes and sizes. And it can mean everything or nothing. It is so rare that the person who delivered it is still thinking about it at all, because to them, it was just a “no,” a “no” that they have a right to deliver, to express, to use to dole out their time and talents in the way that is best for them. It was just a no.