Tips for Taking the Sting Out of Rejection

June 12, 2018

You probably have a rejection horror story: Finally mustering the courage to ask out your crush, only to realize he doesn’t know your name. Or pouring your heart into a project, only to find it in your boss’s wastebasket an hour later.

But you probably have a good rejection story, too: The breakup that led you to find your life partner, or the firing that led to your dream job. These are the times when rejection was a blessing (or a lesson) in disguise.

Blogger Jia Jang is the proud king of rejection. If you haven’t already seen his addictive series, 100 Days of Rejection YouTube, do yourself a favor and watch him try to get rejected. He asks for a haircut from a pet groomer, dances Gangnam Style on a security camera, asks to take a nap at a mattress store, and more. But you don’t have to try to join a random stranger’s Super Bowl party to practice the fine art of getting rejected. Here are five tips to help you handle it better than you thought you could:.

1. Rejection comes in multiples.

A Gallup poll found that smokers have tried to quit an average of 3.6 times. Each time we try something, we figure out what works and what doesn’t, and learn a little more about ourselves. Rejection works the same way. As with any goal, assume you’ll have to put up with a certain number of rejections before you reach success.

For example, getting a new job might require hearing “You’re not quite what we’re looking for” a few times. Finding a partner might only come after having to hear “Let’s be friends” a couple times. It’s like climbing the rungs of a ladder: You have to climb a certain number before you can reach your goal. And without the climb, you won’t get anywhere.

2. Rejection makes you attractive.

One of my favorite studies was conducted in 1966 by the great psychologist Elliot Aronson. In this classic study about the Pratfall Effect, participants listened to a recording of potential quiz show contestants (who were actually confederates). One of the “contestants” answers most questions correctly and details his many achievements, while the other guy answers most of the questions wrong, and is apparently pretty unimpressive in the rest of his life, too.

Participants are then asked who they find more attractive. Remember that this is an audiotape—they can’t see either contestant. But, of course, everyone picks the competent contestant.

The tape keeps playing. Participants hear a clattering sound followed by, “Oh no, I’ve spilled coffee all over my new suit!” The participants are again asked which contestant they find more attractive. Here’s the thing: When the supposed doofus spills coffee on himself, he is seen as less attractive, just like we’d expect. But when the competent guy spills coffee on himself, he is seen as more attractive. So assuming you’re generally competent and likeable (that is, not a doofus), your imperfections only amplify your attractiveness. This is why self-deprecation is so charming.

Let’s tie this back to rejection: Rather than thinking of rejections as something to hide away in the attic, take the best ones, polish them with some humor, and show them off. People will only think you’re stronger (or cuter) for it.

3. Rejection is part of the journey.

A number of the world’s religions value non-attachment. They consider abstention from desire and personal ambition as freedom from suffering. Indeed, striving for fame, money, or love can make us miserable. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try—just don’t get too attached to the outcome.

Alexander Graham Bell isn’t exactly a religious figure, but he summed it up pretty well when he said, “When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, we do not see the one which has opened for us.” The lesson? Don’t fixate on a rejection.

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