There’s always the one person who is going to hate you no matter what. It seems harsh and reductionist, and it’s a tough reality to stomach: that you could have done absolutely nothing, and yet someone will come along and decide that you are somehow not enough. That you are flawed, or come up short, or any myriad of lesser-thans that you could ever possibly be. Even if you weren’t even trying to please them, even if what you were doing was solely for your own enjoyment — because there still are those little happinesses in the world — they will make the official proclamation that you have somehow failed.
You can’t please everyone. So it goes.
But still, if the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that these small maledictions are the ones that stick with us the longest. They are the ones that, even if they come from the faceless and nameless, torment us. As if we could have done better. As if we owed it to someone else, somewhere else, to do better, to do justice by their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs. And no one set of credos has the ability to take away from yours — the world is vast and open, and all that airspace above our heads holds everything from WiFi to power lines to birds and the little lightbulbs of inspiration and ideas that come along if we let them. And when someone comes along and takes a swing at these things, it hurts.
It’s normal, of course, as is the habit of dialogue and debate and discourse. You can’t stop someone from disagreeing with you as much as you can stop them from drawing breath. And they shouldn’t have to agree with you. There is nothing in this world that says they ought to open their arms wide and welcome you in. We know this, at the core.
Why then, is rejection always so painful? Why do we care?
When it happens in school, we’re told to clean our scraped knees and bruised egos, to get over it, to move on. There will be other kids on the playground, our parents said, there will be people who think you’re as special as you are. And we’d mumble back that they just don’t understand — never once believing that our parents could have ever been rejected little kids once, too — but we’d raise our heads and clean up our snot noses and soldier on. I was a weird little kid in elementary school, and I grew up into a weird kid in middle school and a weirder still kid in high school. I wasn’t popular by any means, and I was always a little much — a little too eager, a little too ready to make friends. And so I would try, and try, and try again. I never got anywhere. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t supposed to.
The thing about the people who reject us is that they always will. There might be someone who reaches out a few years down the line, the one who realizes that maybe you have the job they want, or know the people they want to know, or live where they want to live, or have some small semblance of those arbitrary things we’re always chasing — success, wealth, love, fame. And they want to know how, they want to know why. They want, now that our tides have come in, to claim some of that success for themselves, to have our good fortune rub off on them.
It may, on all accounts, be genuine — it’d be just as rejectionist to not give them the benefit of the doubt; there could honestly be the people who have changed, and who align more closely with you now than they did in the past. But more often than not, the ulterior motives cannot trump their true opinions of us, once forged in rejection and now operating from personal gain. And so we end up used and bitter, burned on our own hope. Because deep down, even if we’re not those kids in high school, we still care. We have always cared. We always will.
And you should care. Fear of rejection is what keeps you from applying to your dream job, but it also is what drives you to study for your interview. It’s what makes you terrified to ask that cute kid at the bar for their number, but it’s what drives you to dress your best for your first date. Every point has its counterpoint, every con has its pro. The silver lining to rejection is acceptance, but it’s not other people’s acceptance we should seek so blindly — it’s our own.
It’s only when you begin to accept yourself for who you are — when you talk yourself down from the ledges of changing every last detail of what you think and what you say and who you like and what you don’t — that rejection seems a little less scary, because the people who would reject you won’t bother. To them, you will be a lost hope. They need you as much as you need them.
There’s no rejecting someone who doesn’t need approval to keep going. You can resign yourself to the idea that they will keep doing what they want to do, or you can accept it, or you can embrace it. But your rejection will fall on deaf ears. The relentless and the stubborn and most optimistic people care about being rejected, but they don’t let it stop them.
Therein lies the difference. Therein lies the key. You can’t please everyone — nor should you even try. If you’re not doing something worth having a strong opinion about one way or the other, what are you doing? And there will always be the people who hate something on principle. They will want to hate it, and there is no helping them. There is no pleasing them, either, because giving in to what they want will only ever lead them to rejecting your next big endeavor, too, and the next, and the next. So it goes.
People say to focus on pleasing yourself. And while that is the push to rejection’s pull, that’s not quite right, either. Devote yourself, instead, to doing something worthwhile. To something that leaves you not always pleased, but satisfied. Fulfilled.
Naysayers will reject you no matter what. That is what they will always aim to do. You can’t prove them wrong all the time, by any means. You can, however, prove yourself right. You can create in yourself a person who you don’t reject. Because if anyone should embrace the person you are busy becoming, it’s you.