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When You're Authentic, Rejection Is a Gift

·3 mins

Rejection always stings, and it may or may not get easier to handle over time as you age and experience more rejections. Why it stings is complicated because sometimes we anticipate rejection, but when it hits, it still feels bad.

I think of myself as an expert in rejection. I’ve been rejected by colleges, jobs, friends, family, and romantic partners. I’ve been rejected by people I’ve admired and respected, people I’ve loved and trusted, and even people I’ve never met.

In every case, I suppose the other party had a good reason to do what they needed to do. In some cases, it stung more than others, but in all cases, there was a sense that I had failed in some way. Sometimes, I failed to meet the other person’s expectations, and sometimes, I failed to meet my own. In most cases, there was a lesson to be learned (if nothing else, the lesson was to care less).

The thing about rejection is that it’s less bad than when people say yes when they want to say no. It’s better to be rejected by someone who doesn’t want you than to be accepted by someone who doesn’t want you. Both committing an act of rejection and being on the receiving end is a bummer, but rejection is generally an act of honesty and having the courage to say no when it might be hurtful.

When you’re authentic with yourself and others, and someone rejects you for being your authentic self, this is rarely bad (although it feels bad when it happens). The reason this is a good thing is simple: if someone doesn’t like who you are, it’s best to avoid that person. Perhaps they rejected you out of suspicion about your character, or perhaps they rejected you because they don’t like your personality. Either way, it’s better to know now than later. And if they misjudged you and were wrong about you, then it’s likely a good self-selection mechanism to avoid them.

Some people have taken to practicing rejection therapy, which involves seeking out rejection in order to desensitize oneself to it and in some cases gamifying the process. This is a good way to build resilience and to learn that rejection is not the end of the world. It’s also a good way to learn that rejection is not personal, and that it’s often about the other person’s preferences and not about you. This last point is important to understand because we tend to take rejection personally when it’s (confusingly) rarely about you.

Rejection therapy, as practiced, is similar to exposure therapy (exposing oneself to sources of anxiety to reduce anxiety), and it generally fits within the CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) framework in teaching oneself to care less about things that aren’t worth caring about in the grand scheme of things.

When I reflect upon my past life experiences and the rejections that felt the worst at the time, I realize they were all gifts. As a corollary, I try politely rejecting people when possible and being honest about my feelings and intentions instead of stringing people on, ghosting, or simply lying. It’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

The weird thing about being authentic is that it’s also the best way to avoid the worst rejections because you’re more likely to attract the right people in the right situations, whether it’s personal, professional, or something else.