“Rejection is just someone’s opinion.”
That was the advice a friend gave me recently after a manuscript I submitted to my agent was rejected. She meant to comfort me, but her advice felt hollow.
This was the “opinion” of someone with far more expertise than I have. It felt egocentric to dismiss it. (Btw, my opinion was that my manuscript was positively brilliant. Hers was that it was completely unmarketable.)
But did my agent’s opinion carry less weight than mine?
Whether it is our love life or work, it’s a question we must answer every time we face rejection — is this just one person’s opinion? Or is it a consensus opinion?
But therein lies the rub. If you push through and believe rejection is just differing opinions, then you will never learn from it. But if you internalize every rejection, it becomes crippling.
Fortunately, there is a sweet spot between overindulging and ignoring rejection.
Kill the positivity
I am embarrassed to admit this because it sounds pretty conceited, but I wasn’t expecting my agent to reject my manuscript. I thought it was so darn fabulous that the furthest thing from my mind was rejection. But that is the problem with overconfidence — when you anticipate only success, the rejection hurts far more.
Usually, confidence is an asset when pursuing any goal, but not when it blindsides you. A better approach — expect a positive outcome but prepare for defeat.
For example, I have several friends who use “vision boards” to manifest success. The problem with this “envision your destiny” approach is it usually doesn’t involve an action plan. In fact, the people who visualize success are often the ones who don’t take any actionable steps to reach their goals. They believe that by wishing it, it will come true.
Life doesn’t work that way. Sorry, but no one finds love or success when they are “not looking for it.” Imagining success is a great way to stay focused on your goal but not when it mires you in magical thinking.
Successful people don’t just imagine success. They take small actionable steps to reach their goals. And they share one thing in common — the ability to pivot. When they experience rejection, they don’t just soldier on. They redraw their battle plan.
Silence your inner critic
Of course, the other extreme is self-flagellation. Sometimes, we internalize rejection and attach it to our self-worth. There are many times in life when rejection really is just another person’s opinion. And often, the reason behind the rejection has nothing to do with the quality of our work or our character.
This is especially true in our love life. When someone rejects you, it is not because you are not lovable. It is because they are looking for something familiar and you are unfamiliar.
Whether subconsciously or not, most people create a love map of traits they desire in a partner. These traits are formed from childhood, past loves, the media, friends, and a host of other external factors. (And sometimes, these traits can be harmful ones.) No one ever wants to admit that they have “a type,” but everyone is looking for characters to fill the story they have already written in their minds.
In other words, love rejection is not rejecting someone for their unique traits. It is rejecting someone for their unfamiliar traits.
Avoid egocentric bias
Think of the last time you asked someone out, and they said no. I bet it stung. But did you stop and think about how much anxiety, consternation, or sadness the rejector experienced by having to say no?
Now think of a time you had to reject someone. Unless you have the consciousness of a single cell amoeba, it probably wasn’t fun. And we have all said yes to someone when we wanted to say no. No one likes to deliver bad news.
But when we are stung by rejection, we rarely put ourselves in the place of the person saying no. They just rejected us, so we certainly are not feeling magnanimous. We might even feel a tad bitter.
This is egocentric bias — the tendency to rely too heavily on one’s own perspective.
There is a more mature way to handle rejection. If you can put yourself in the place of the rejector, it takes the focus off your bruised egos. And when you take the vantage point of the rejector, you are better able to see shortcomings objectively.
Practice mental contrasting
Early twentieth-century psychotherapist Paul Dubois said, “He who knows how to suffer suffers less.” Dubois was a proponent of stoic philosophy. He believed that instead of dismissing rejection as someone else’s opinion, you must first acknowledge the pain and what that loss means to you.
In other words, the most graceful way to handle rejection is to let go of what you cannot control and be grateful for that which you can. Doing so will allow you to find the sweet spot between blaming internal factors (yourself) and blaming external factors beyond your control (others.)
The modern version of stoic philosophy is mental contrasting — a self-regulation strategy developed by psychologist and author Gabriele Oettingen. Mental contrasting is when we focus on the desired outcome while preparing for the obstacles that might arise.
For example, here’s how you would use mental contrasting in your love life. First, imagine a healthy, stable relationship with someone you adore. Second, identity the benefits of that wish (i.e., companionship, sex, loyalty.) Third, identity the obstacle in the way of reaching that goal (i.e., no opportunity to meet someone new, too busy with work, fear of rejection.) This third step is basically all the excuses you make (guilty!)
Lastly, and most importantly, develop a plan to overcome that obstacle when/if you encounter it (i.e., network more, be more open to different people, control your fear of rejection.)
To be clear, mental contrasting is not catastrophizing — picturing the worst possible outcome. Mental contrasting is imagining your obstacles so you can strategize ways to tackle them.
Think of mental contrasting as playing chess with yourself. Instead of just visualizing a win, you visualize the obstacles that could cause your defeat so that you are better prepared to meet them.
“He who knows how to suffer suffers less.” — Paul Dubois
I once attended a writer’s conference where the editor admitted to 2000 audience members that she rejected The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This haunting tale about a young girl murdered by a pedophile became a bestseller and film directed by Peter Jackson.
Alice Sebold showed them all. Her book was rejected and went on to major success. It’s a great comeuppance story. But that’s not what I love about this rejection tale.
After several rejections from young adult editors, Alice Sebold realized that her book was not suitable for a teen market and resubmitted it to an adult editor. Only after adjusting her selling strategy did she find a publisher.
Taking an objective approach to rejection is never easy. It is far easier to either wallow in disappointment or shrug the rejection off as “just someone’s opinion.”
But sometimes, we need to check our ego at the door for another door to open.
This article was originally published on PS I Love You. Relationships Now.