The Upside of Rejection

Rejection and I are long-time dance partners.

I have been rejected by colleges, people, beaus (or those I wanted to be beaus), jobs, fellowships, pets (Calico the cat: oh, was she dismissive), casting directors, dance partners.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I can tell you from the frontlines, rejection stinks. It stings. It makes me wish desperately, fiercely, prayerfully that I could rewind the clock to the moment before I did what got rejected.

But I can also tell you that even though I wish that, if given the chance, I still wouldn’t do that. Because rejection is a fiery, brilliant teacher. If we let it be.

In the immediate aftermath of rejection, I aim to lay low, be gentle with myself. If I can do this - if I can resist the temptation to unwind the pain, try to reverse the rejection - then insight inches in, quietly. That insight, whatever form it takes, we earn it. It’s wisdom we can only arrive at through the awful crucible of discomfort and doubt. (And if the insight is that we should never risk rejection ever again, that isn’t insight, but fear; the real insight is still waiting in the wings.)

When I meet a wise person, I suspect they have known rejection. And through work, often done with shaky hands and an unsure heart, they have transformed that pain into intelligence. Then passed that intelligence on to those they encounter.

The teachings of rejection, then, are not only in service of our growth, but also the comfort and consolation of others.

None of this makes rejection smooth. It is, by definition, upheaval. It must be, otherwise it couldn’t throw us out of the nest we were in and into a larger, wiser place.

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