Leaning into Rejection and Pain

I had a student ask me how do you handle the pain of rejection when someone doesn't reply to an email?

I told him that it never stops hurting. But I told him what helps is to remind yourself that you don't matter.

Not that your life doesn't matter but to be in the shoes of the other person. That person is living through a journey of their own. Their own life with different priorities. To that individual, you are a stranger and you may be one of hundreds of emails they get in a day, week or month. Regardless, they only have 24 hours in a day and that means your email may not be priority.

It's a rational and empathetic approach. It's worked for me at least. But what I've found hard is the rejection after you've met. After you've had an opportunity to share the part of you that you are so passionate about. The story that comes from the heart.

Some like to call it being authentic. Some call it being exposed, vulnerable or just good ol' fashioned honest. Whatever your preferred term is, it exists.

What still hurts for me is when you get rejected after opening up your heart.

What hurts is when they tell you 'no', or even ignore you after you've opened up your heart. Because for me, that has become the point of establishing a connection and with that I had hoped to be connected. To be understood. I opened up to connect.

And of course, the same line hits again. It's not about you. They have their own busy life.

But I think it becomes harder to consider that after you've opened up your heart. Because it can't help but feel like a rejection to who you are. A rejection to the person you showed.

What I've learned is that when I chose to be honest and authentic it polarized people. A handful loved it and we build a relationship. But most rejected it. They were put off by it or were able to immediately conclude that a further time investment was not required since I'd shown it all. To use a poker analogy, it would be like I should them my hand before the flop and we we're done. No need to see the flop, turn or river.

It's not too dissimilar from venture investing actually. Because you'll go through lot's of pain. Most times, it will fail. Your honesty will get rejected over and over again. But when it doesn't, it will matter. It will be material. It will click and soar.

This doesn't mean that it's ever going to be an easy process. It hurts all the time. Whether it's an ignored email, a rejection from an interview or being pushed out of a job. It will always hurt.

But something I've learned to embrace is to take pride in the pain. To actually experience the pain and congratulate myself for it.

If a rejection hurts, then it means I cared. I cared because I showed them everything I was about. So of course I should care. Why wouldn't I? It's when a rejection doesn't matter that I know that deep down I didn't care. Sometimes, such a rejection might even be joyous. Like when people feel unburdened after being fired. It means you didn't care then. It also may mean that you had chosen to live out a life of not being true to who you are.

But when it hurts, it's real. You showed it all. There is nothing more you can ask of them now. There probably isn't anything cleaner or more absolute. Though I believe "no" doesn't mean never, it doesn't make the pain any easier. Rather, I can use that pain to remind myself that it was in the process of doing something I cared about. Doing something honest. What is life without suffering?