Rejection is one of those negative experiences life seems to toss at us to keep things interesting. Only, instead of making things interesting, rejection often makes us feel badly about ourselves. At its most basic, rejection is the dismissal or refusal of an idea. It is synonymous with disapproval, negation and elimination. It feels like a slap in the face—and it happens to everyone.
No one is immune to rejection, but some people do handle it better than others. Whether it creeps up in your work environment, home life or social circles, it’s something we all have to cope with at different check points in our lives. So how do we deal with rejection and move on? According the experts, use it to your advantage. Here’s how to do just that.
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1. Agree with the rejection
This is the toughest part, but the most crucial. Andrea Marcellus, a life strategist and fitness expert, clarifies that this first step does not mean putting yourself down. It means seeing what the other side—the coach, the hiring manager, the friend—needed and how that might not necessarily be what you have to offer. Agreeing with rejection involves accepting that it occurred and transforming the emotional power it holds over you into something useful.
Example: You didn’t make the varsity field hockey team. It hurts like hell. But when you take a step back you can see it may be because you weren’t as committed to field hockey as the other players—after all, you’re also on student council and debate. Perhaps the coach sees you spread too thin. It’s hard, but if you accept this rejection as an opportunity to really understand what you value most and where you should spend your time, you’ll actually learn more from this rejection than getting on the team ever could.
2. Take stock of all of your strengths
It’s OK to acknowledge rejection and build yourself back up again. “Solidify in your mind what your strengths are to highlight them for the next opportunity,” instructs Marcellus. Ask yourself what do you bring to the table? Why is it valuable? If you’re not used to thinking about yourself in this way, sit down and make a brag sheet.
Example: You didn’t get the babysitting job you thought you were perfect for. When you ask the family why they went with another candidate, they say it’s because he has CPR training. Huh. You also have CPR training, but didn’t make this clear. Next babysitting gig, you make sure to share everything that makes you a valuable hire off the bat.
3. Embrace rejection as protection
Think about a time when you were rejected. What opportunity arose that wouldn’t have been possible without this negative experience? Marcellus encourages people to embrace rejection as a good thing, because it means something better will come next. “The key is to learn from every experience, allow the rejection to help you grow,” she adds. Rejection offers us a chance to clarify what we want, what we can offer and what we can set aside.
Example: After a romantic whirlwind of dates, you find yourself ghosted by the person you had so much fun with. It’s a painful rejection because, even though things were just starting off, you envisioned a future together. That said, with a little distance from the situation, maybe you had blinders on. Did you actually have a connection? Did you both ever engage in deep conversations about your goals and intentions? Maybe not. The rejection stings, but it’s telling you something about how to move forward more wisely as you continue dating.
4. Keep going
“Keep putting one foot in front of the other every day to make things happen,” Marcellus says. Without forcing it, gracefully accept what comes next, after the rejection. This may look like adjusting expectations before dating again, patiently waiting for a job opening or simply focusing on small things that bring you joy. Whatever you do, don’t stop moving forward.
Example: Your dream college application was rejected. While it feels like a dead end, a rejection can be a powerful detour in persistence. What if, instead of giving up, you dig deeper into what makes you happy. You apply to a community college with a film studies program—your passion—that happens to be way more hands on the than the big college program and winds up leading you to a career as a commercial director way sooner than you would have if you went the traditional route.
Below are some examples of the ways in which you can deal with rejection in your life. Everyone’s situation is unique; however, sticking to Marcellus’ four-step process for getting over failure is a solid place to start.
Whether your boss denies your request for a raise or a co-worker routinely puts down your ideas, rejection at work can be exhausting and demoralizing. Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources and management consultant, tells The Balance Careers the key here is getting feedback. Equally as important is your response to feedback. Rather than arguing or getting angry, really listen to the feedback and make a list of areas in which you can improve, alongside your strengths. Make a concrete plan for how to meet specific benchmarks and share this plan with the people who directly impact your goals.
It’s also worth noting rejection at work can be more objective, which may make it slightly easier to digest. Perhaps you really weren’t qualified for a promotion, regardless of how well you know you’d perform in the role. On the flip side, if evidence suggests a decision was made subjectively, asking for feedback may illuminate this and give you more leverage the next time a promotion pops up. Many workplaces have bullies and gaslighters who prevent others from meeting their full potential. If this is the case, you’ve got to set boundaries and confront this type of behavior head on. Chances are, you’re not the only one in the office dealing with bullying.
Rejection at work and rejection while looking for work produce two very different emotions. Intense feelings of discouragement and frustration when you need an income is normal. It’s also easy to take things more personally when the repeated response to your work history and skills is, “No, thanks!” To avoid falling into a self-critical spiral, allow yourself to feel badly and then use the negative experience to bolster your confidence. As psychologist Dr. Pam Garcy told O Magazine, “Sometimes allowing yourself to have your feelings leads them to slowly reduce in intensity.” For instance, instead of beating yourself up for butchering a job interview, look at it as practice for the next interview. The more you do, the better you get.
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King says he began posting rejection slips on the wall above his desk when he was 14. Over time, “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.” His best-seller, Carrie, was turned down by 30 publishers before being picked up. Since then, he has sold over 350 million copies of his more than 80 books. The lesson? You can be upset about rejection, but you’ve got to keep going. Let each rejection bolster your courage. Play Ariana Grande’s “Thank You, Next,” and embrace tomorrow.
Rejection in dating can be the easiest to take personally and the hardest to get over. The thing is, the whole point of dating is to reject incompatible partners! Hidden Gem is a company helping people get the most out of online dating. They reiterate that dating and rejection go hand in hand. Being honest with a potential partner is essential; when someone rejects you, it has everything to do with their needs and wants, not who you are.
One way to deal with it is to think about times when you’ve turned people down. Why did you reject someone? Take into consideration what this person could and could not control about your reaction to them. Consider what the person who let you go may be dealing with behind the scenes.
Another way to combat dating fatigue is to avoid hopping around from one person to the next. Jumping back into the dating ring too soon after a painful rejection could cloud your experience. Ever been on a date with someone who can’t stop talking about their ex? It’s not fun. eHarmony also recommends avoiding generalization. Instead of saying, “No one wants to date me,” try, “That person didn’t want to date me. A person who does want to date me is still out there.”
Finally, if you’ve never rejected a date or a romantic partner, that can be equally as troubling. You’re allowed to turn someone down if you’re not interested or lose the initial spark you felt. This type of self-examination is critical to handling rejection because it reminds us that we need to have standards; they shouldn’t be so high or specific that no one can meet them, but they have to exist so we can weed out the people who aren’t right for us (and vice versa).
Evolutionarily speaking, human beings need social groups to survive. Which is why it’s not too surprising that studies have shown our brains interpret the pain of social rejection the same way they interpret physical pain. Ergo, being excluded from a happy hour or not receiving an invite to a friend’s birthday party can lead to negative emotions like anxiety, jealousy and sadness.
Kipling Williams, PhD, at Purdue University, told the American Psychological Association (APA) that many people respond to social rejection by immediately mimicking the people in the group to which they want to belong. Basically, this means changing your own behavior to match someone else’s to be accepted. This reaction is an attempt to control an uncontrollable situation. It compromises personal values. A healthier—and more fulfilling—response is to spend time with friends or family who leave you feeling good about yourself.
No existing friends or family close by? Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Join a book club at a local bookstore. Take a class! Anything that places you in a space with other like-minded individuals will help spark meaningful friendships.
If it seems like friends and family who used to be close to you have begun rejecting invitations to hang out or catch up, it’s worth asking if you’ve harmed them in some way. No one is perfect, but if your bad habit of constantly criticizing others is affecting your relationships, it’s time to change your approach. Again, this is self-examination, not self-critique.
Rejection isn’t fun, but it’s part of life. Everyone goes through it. If you can use it to your advantage, it can change everything.
5 Podcasts on Dealing with Rejection
Best for feeling inspired post rejection
This episode of WorkLife, hosted by Adam Grant, is dedicated to techniques for handling rejection that actually make you stronger. It also includes Oscar-nominated writer and director M. Night Shyamalan reading harsh reviews about his own films, proving once and for all that no one is immune to a little rejection.
Best for getting over career rejection
Award-winning podcaster and storyteller Jay Shetty offers up what he calls “the rule of 100,” to help guide listeners to turn rejection into redirection. Sound like a magic trick? Shetty believes it’s a skill anyone can master.
Best for feeling like you’re talking it out with really smart friends
Hosts Sarah Sasson and Liz Heit’s weekly podcast aims to remove the stigma behind mental health by having tough conversations about their real-life anxieties. In this episode, the co-hosts talk about their own experiences with rejection and negative self-talk.
Best for soul-searching while dating
Registered dietitian and inner child healing coach (it’s a thing) Beatrice Kamau might just give you the gentle nudge to get you out of your funk and back on the self-love train. In this episode, Kamau gets into the rejection of dating and why we shouldn’t chase the people who don’t actually want us back.
Best for dating tips with some hearty laughs
Ashley Hesseltine and Rayna Greenberg’s comedy podcast about dating, sex relationships isn’t all punchlines. In this episode, the co-hosts bring in clinical psychologist Guy Winch to talk about healing after heartbreak, rejection and failure. OK, and you’ll have some laughs too.
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