Rejection - what it is and how to overcome it

No matter who we are we all experience rejection at some point in our life: the sting of being told we’re not good enough; the heartache in a relationship when it ends against our wishes; the deflation we feel when we don’t get that promotion we so desired.

Rejection can be obvious and dramatic and it can also be subtle.

It’s also subjective; what one person classes as rejection can be very different to some else’s.

So it can be quite difficult pin down and define universally.

In this post I’ll be taking a look into this troublesome part of human experience: what rejection is, and the steps we can take to move beyond it.

It might be impossible to avoid being rejected entirely, but we needn’t allow to utterly crush our soul.

What is Rejection?

According to the dictionary, rejection has a few different meanings, but the following are the ones that most people recognise:

Rejection is:

“The act of not giving someone the love and attention they want and expect.”

“A letter, etc. that tells you that you have not been successful in getting a job, a place on a course of study, etc.”

There’s also the verb, “to reject”, which means:

“To dismiss as inadequate, unacceptable, or faulty”.

As revealing as they are, none of these definitions tell you the full story. It’s not often that people experience life according to a Cambridge dictionary definition.

For some, being rejected is a colossal deal: it’s further evidence that they simply aren’t good enough, or they’ve been finally “found out”. 

When people react poorly to being rejected, something deep and meaningful is happening within their neurology.

The act of being assessed and found wanting can feel like a bullet to the self-esteem, and it can lead a person to believing that their worth & value is in question – that they are, quite possibly, not good enough.

However, for some, being rejected isn’t much of an issue. They appear to be bullet-proof to the self-worth damaging projectiles that often accompanies the experience.

To them, it’s either just part of the learning process, or evidence that the “rejector” has made the biggest mistake of their life!

After each rejection they just jump up from the canvas like Mohammad Ali.

How can this be?

How can two people experience the same act in such drastically contrasting ways?

The reason people’s reactions can be so wildly different is because, ultimately, rejection is an interpretation it’s a perception inside our mind that we are reacting to.

The act of being rejected is real – people do dismiss others as being inadequate, unacceptable, or faulty. But how we experiencing the rejection is a choice.

Some wilt under the disapproving opinion and make it their reality, whereas others choose to respond in a more useful and resourceful manner.

So what’s the difference?

Well, there are many factors at play but one worth considering is the difference between actual value, perceived value and potential value.

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Actual, Perceived, & Potential Value...

Human beings are value driven creatures. We move towards what we perceive to be valuable.

In a job interview, the interviewer is assessing the interviewee to see how valuable they could be to the company. If the applicant ticks most of the boxes then they’re hired.

On a first date – even though we don’t make it obvious – we have our own criteria for what we like in a partner, and we then subconsciously go through this list during the date.

When we purchase a car, or house, we will have a ‘value checklist’ inside our mind – a list of criteria we believe to be valuable – that has to be met before we buy.

We all have our own internal value assessment machines that work away in the background, keeping an eye out for anything that could add value to our lives.

But these internal value assessment machines aren’t always accurate. They make mistakes.

When we make a decision regarding a person’s value – or anything’s value for that matter – it will always be based on the information that we have at hand.

Sometimes this is extensive and revealing, whereas other times we don’t have much to go on –we’re basically just going on a hunch.

In fact, there’s an argument to say that all decisions we make are based on incomplete information; we don’t know what someone or something has to offer until we fully experience it.

This is where the distinctions of actual value, perceived value and potential value come in:

→ Actual value is the entirety of what something, or someone, has to offer.

→ Perceived value is the perception of what something, or someone, has to offer.

And potential value is what something, or someone, could offer you in the future.

The reason this is relevant to rejection is because people get reject based on perceived value – not actual value or potential value.

If we take the interview process, as an example.

Most interviews are done over a relatively short time-frame. Anything ranging from 1-hour up to a day.

When you compare this to the length of an employees’ working life it’s nothing.

The major challenge for an interviewer is to figure out who “could be” valuable to the company based on their performance within a short, manufactured window.

The interviewer isn’t going on a person’s actual value – they haven’t worked with them yet so they don’t know what that is.

And they aren’t going on their potential value – they don’t know for certain how the person is going to develop over time.

They are going on what they perceive their value to be.

In other words, it’s a guess.

Hopefully, if certain processes are put in place, it’s an educated guess but it will always be an approximate assessment.

So that’s why rejection is often not what it seems. You aren’t being rejected for what you actually have to offer, or what you’ll offer in the future, you’re being rejected based on a person’s approximate assessment: their perception.

This is a crucial distinction.

Being rejected stings when we take it to heart, when we treat it as an accurate assessment of our value.

But when we realise that it’s just someone responding to their own fallible perception we can have a very different response to it.

We might not still like the outcome but we no longer have to take it personally.

Also, because value is so subjective, there’s a high chance – if we stick with the interview example – that you weren’t successful because they were looking for different qualities than what you currently offer. And that your qualities could be more valuable elsewhere.

Or that you need to spend some time improving your value.

Just because you didn’t meet the criteria at that point in time, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop key areas to help you be successful the next time. “Value” after all, is not fixed, it’s a moving picture.

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A Resourceful Way of Looking at Rejection...

So if you ever get rejected, here are some important things to consider:

→ Everybody’s assessment of value is subjective:

Different people like different things. If one person doesn’t like your mojo then other people will.

You can’t please everyone so maybe your value is best taken to a different place?

→ Who’s doing the assessing?

All decisions are made on incomplete information.

People make mistakes and misjudgements. In fact, this is most likely the norm rather than the exception.

Choosing the right person for a job or relationship is extremely difficult and mistakes are regularly made. If someone rejected you, perhaps they’ve just made a big mistake?

→ It’s all just feedback:

Remember, you are a flexible human being that can continue to learn and develop over time.

Being told that you don’t meet certain requirements – according to one person’s definition – has little to do with your ability to learn, grow and develop.

If it’s something worth pursuing then find out what you need to develop and then dedicate time to it.

History is full of inspirational examples of people being told they weren’t good enough but they stuck at it.

Just watch this Tiger Woods video for a great recent example:

When you’re rejected, assuming it’s something you want to pursue, think, “Okay, it’s time to learn. What do I need to improve in order to show that this person made a mistake?

Being rejected is a fact of life, but how we to respond to it is our choice. And we can choose to respond in a much more resourceful and useful manner. Perhaps it’s time to choose more wisely.

All the best,

Steven Burns

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Steven Burns

Hi! I’m Steven. I’m a professional therapist, coach, trainer & author with over 20 years experience. I teach the latest psychological tools and techniques to help you transform and make a difference.

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