Managing Rejection Like a Pro

“What would happen if we stopped viewing rejection as a negative, humiliating force, and start viewing rejection as a necessary development tool, and catalyst for success.” - Darryll Stinson 

There are few certainties in life. The sun will rise, the wind will blow. Elon Musk will spend a lot of money on a controversial project, and rejection, unfortunately, will come. 

But if rejection is so inescapable, how come we have such a hard time dealing with it? 

Let’s take it back 40,000 years. Woolly mammoths roam with grass underfoot. Sabre-tooth tigers stalk their prey. Giant beavers make giant dams (!). And you, a Palaeothic homosapien, eat elk and nuts around an open fire. 

Your tribe, the 17 prehistoric humans you rely on for survival, look at you but don’t talk. They shift away from the fire, turning their backs to you and the opening of the cave. Your palms sweat like they did when a dire wolf caught you in its sights, headed straight for your throat, saved only by Krugg and her mighty spear. Krugg, too, says nothing now. 

Rejection, when viewed through the lens of our ancestors, means death. An imbalance of your status within a group, an insecurity in your ability to rely on those around you. Tens of (if not hundreds of) thousands of years of pack behaviour have shaped the way our brains react to dismissal. We use the same primal instincts of our predecessors, even though the reality of our lives are drastically different. 

Studies have shown the neurological response when being rejected lights up the same areas as physical pain. Our brains are clever - no shock there. But they’re also efficient. Why create two different areas for handling pain when one works just as well? 

“Instead of creating an entirely new system to respond to socially painful events, evolution simply co-opted the system for physical pain.” - C. Nathan DeWall

So what do we do about it? 

First, acknowledge that rejection is a part of life. If the human race has been experiencing it for thousands of years, you’re certainly no exception. 

Second, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Obviously, wallowing and spiralling into the all-too-familiar cycle of anxiety and low self-esteem that rejection often brings is detrimental to your well-being. But you’re in pain, and taking the time to process is the best next step to moving forward. Speak to a friend, write your thoughts in a journal, meditate. Whatever it takes for you to take a step away and clear your head.

 “Evolutionarily speaking, if you’re socially isolated you’re going to die. It’s important to be able to feel that pain.” - Kipling Williams

Third; get up. The old Japanese proverb, ‘fall down 7 times, get up 8’, should serve as perfect inspiration for anyone dealing with rejection. Sure, there could be reasons beyond your control for your rejection; maybe the company you were applying for had an internal restructure, or there were budgetary issues. In that case, there’s nothing you can do, so dwelling on the lost opportunity does nothing but bring you grief. 

But on the other hand, maybe it is something you could have done differently. And that’s fine. Remind yourself, frequently, that rejection doesn’t mean failure. Just because you weren’t right for the opportunity at this moment in time, that doesn’t mean you never will be. People grow, evolve, and learn all the time. We are not stagnant pools of water, but instead raging tides in the ocean. 

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go well?
  3. What can I do better next time?

These constructive outlooks will take your painful experience and turn it into a learning opportunity. We’re not born good at anything, after all. When we’re children, we don’t learn to walk until we’ve fallen over a hundred times. We don’t talk without babbling a hundred wrong words. And we definitely don’t have a perfect interview without at least having a few bad ones

If you’re having trouble answering number 2, you can always ask for help. If you feel comfortable, why not follow up with your interviewer for feedback. Most of the time, they’ll be happy to spare a few minutes for you.