I was rejected today.
Ok, I wasn’t rejected, a research study I wrote was rejected from an academic conference, but the feeling of rejection was personal. It made me begin thinking about my personal worth, which isn’t a fun spiral to travel.
The truth is that I’ve experienced more professional rejection this year than I have in my entire career. Recognizing that made me realize a couple of things. First, I’m really fortunate not to have experienced much rejection. Most people aren’t this blessed. Second, coping with rejection is difficult, and I can’t be alone in this problem.
As I began considering how to handle the rejection, it occurred to me that I also could use this experience to help you. After all, I’m sure a lot of you have experienced rejections too. You didn’t get the editorial role, internship or job you wanted. You didn’t make the grade you thought you earned. You got something wrong that you were certain you got right.
It happens to all of us. Here’s how I’m coping with my professional rejections. I hope it will help you too.
Understand that rejection hurts
I’m not going to lie, I wallowed in today’s rejection a bit. It hurt my feelings, so I complained to a couple of good friends, felt sorry for myself, took an extra long shower where I contemplated just giving up and taking the easy route, then I posted a sad meme on Facebook so maybe other people would inadvertently feel sorry for me because my poor, fragile little feelers were hurt.
Then I got the hell over myself.
Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist who studies emotional health, did a TED Talk entitled Why rejection hurts so much—and what to do about it. Winch discovered that the greatest damage caused by rejection is self-inflicted. In other words, we receive a rejection, then we start criticizing ourselves. This is exactly what I did today. As soon as I saw that my study was rejected, I began questioning my intelligence, my worth as a scholar and whether I was providing anything valuable in the field. After a single rejection! Are you kidding me? I have too much evidence to the contrary to allow myself to buy into that nonsense. So, I did what Kenna does best. I got mad, then I got motivated.
Put the rejection in context
Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I was able to put the paper rejection into context and actually make sense of it. Yes, the paper was rejected. However, the paper was based on a portion of my dissertation that I already knew had some problems to work through. I even thought when I submitted the paper “This may not be accepted, but at least I’ll get some feedback to guide me through the next steps.” You read that right. The rejection was an outcome that I knew was possible, maybe even likely, but I wanted to take that first step toward feedback anyway.
Further, the rejection says nothing about my intelligence, my value as an educator/researcher or me as a person. Scholars get rejected. It’s just a factor in our work. And my husband, children and friends don’t give a shit about the rejection. They think I’m fabulous and the reviewers got it wrong. In other words, the people who truly matter to me don’t define me by this rejection, which leads me to question why I would either.
Fuel yourself from the rejection
Do you remember earlier when I wrote about getting mad, then motivated? This is where that part comes in. It goes something like this: “Oh, they want to reject my study? Fine! I’ll revise it and resubmit it. While I’m at it, I’ll resubmit that other study to a journal like I’ve been meaning to. And that study I’ve been meaning to start? That’s happening tomorrow! While I’m at it, I’m going to go write a post on coping with rejection so the student who follow me will know that rejection happens to everyone and we should use it to push harder.”
That was my real internal dialogue. I love this about myself. I get mad, then I get busy. Once you find a way to use rejection to fuel your motivations, you don’t have time for the negativity spiral because you’re too busy taking actions toward your next successes.
Rejection is never going to be easy, but let’s decide now to use our rejections to guide us to even more success.