Recently, I opened up to a friend about how I got rejected by someone, and only got over the hurt after five tedious months of wallowing.
You’d think that at 28, I’d be used to getting my heart and ego shredded by the sheer blow of rejection. Surprising absolutely nobody, I declared that I was quite done with putting myself out there; I didn’t know if I could survive the same situation again.
In response, my friend nodded and sighed. He understood where I was coming from, but also wanted to give his honest take on the situation.
“You shouldn’t shortchange your future because of what happened in the past. Don’t allow this rejection to close yourself off,” he said quietly.
Of course, he was right, but his words didn’t just apply to personal heartache. They were also relevant for professional rejection; from submitting the initial application to going for several interview rounds, a job search can often demand as much time and emotional investment as wooing a personal love interest. And in the same way that someone may eventually discover their attraction is unrequited, a potential job candidate might believe they stand a chance at getting the job, only to get ghosted by the company in the last round.
In fact, rejection has a tendency to distort one’s sense of time and memory. Every time it happens, it feels like the most excruciating pain that you forget you’ve survived a similar instance.
While each rejection never seems to get easier, history has clearly shown that most people don’t stop taking chances just because they get rejected. We simply learn how to be smarter, more cautious, and more resilient.
So when I first chanced upon the increasingly trendy idea of aiming to get 100 rejections a year, I wondered which psychopath would willingly throw themselves headfirst into the fire I’d been through. Then, probably because I am that psychopath, I wondered if experiencing similar (or worse) rejection 99 more times in a year would lessen the whiplash or reduce the rate it took me to recover.
Whatever the case, experiencing rejection and being able to bounce back made me feel inordinately invincible. I figured I had nothing more to lose.
Thus my single resolution for 2019 was born: I would aim to get rejected 100 times next year.
The former asks that we accept failure/rejection when it comes, instead of avoiding reality. Even though many of us learn from young that results are what matter, the education system has slowly started shifting its focus away from grades, ensuring that our children have more room to experiment and get comfortable with uncertainty. While helpful, this strategy still appears to be a passive acceptance of failure/rejection.
On the other hand, seeking out failure/rejection requires deliberate and thoughtful action to place ourselves in situations where we would love to succeed but know we stand a high chance of failing or getting rejected. The difference between this and the aforementioned method is that failure/rejection in this case would be entirely intentional and purposeful.
I get it, the latter strategy isn’t intuitive. The notion of exposing ourselves to opportunities to get rejected goes against basic human instinct for self-preservation.
Yet, if you are also stereotypically Type-A, thrive on a little competition, and want to embark on this bonkers journey with me, consider framing this as a social experiment or game.
Remember that you want to get rejected.
Many of us often think the world of others, but very little of ourselves. When we believe our goal is overly lofty, we end up unnecessarily romanticising an opportunity, person, or company because of our deep admiration for them. Intimidated by the possibility of failure or rejection, we hold ourselves back, even though our debilitating fear is often unfounded.
Similarly, as a writer, knowing someone would likely disagree to be interviewed means that sometimes I choose not to even ask. Some may argue that I simply work smart, but it also means I don’t have to deal with the eventual disappointment of getting rejected and not seeing my idea pan out.
In reality, we ‘reject’ ourselves when we don’t bother giving ourselves a fair shot at bold opportunities.
Secondly, stop asking yourself what you’d do if you could not fail. Instead, ask yourself what you’d do even if you knew you’d fail. By flipping our perspective on the common platitude, we discover the things we’d do because we genuinely believe in doing them.
To do this, outline specific areas in life where we feel inferior or could do better, such as searching for a better job or practising radical honesty with our significant other about how we really feel.
It’s useful to think of ambitious, actionable milestones to target. For example, applying for the job that we truly desire but feel unqualified for; reaching out to a leader in our industry whom we admire to request for coffee; asking the person we’re interested in on a second, third, fourth date without waiting for them to initiate.
This year, for example, saw me canning several profiles when the celebrities or public figures I reached out to didn’t want to speak. While many simply chose not to respond, others got my hopes up only to dash them by ghosting me after exchanging a few enthusiastic messages.
It was disheartening, but I saw it all as ‘practice’ for my next failure/rejection.
In setting ourselves up for failure/rejection by reaching for extravagant goals regardless of outcome, we inadvertently create the right conditions to succeed: an unshakeable belief in doing the work for its own sake.
Finally, it’s crucial to remember that our obsessive pursuit of rejection shouldn’t desensitise us to the sting of rejection. We want to remember that failure and rejection are tough pills to swallow—but also that the more times we do it, the more comfortable we get with discomfort.
Essentially, pursuing rejection teaches us that giving ourselves the opportunity and permission to fail can prove more important than succeeding in the long run.
It’s also easier to treat career advice as nothing more than cute life hacks when we have the privilege of finding another job or trying something new if what we’re doing doesn’t work out.
Yet, if we want to teach our children to embrace uncertainty and become more process-oriented in the pursuit of a better life, we must understand that a fundamental societal shift away from a results-oriented mindset requires the support of every socioeconomic group.
Pursuing rejection is also a universally beneficial skill to master for anyone in any career or stage of life. While different groups of people might choose to pursue rejection through varying means, getting comfortable with failure/rejection is inherently valuable to anyone.
After getting rejected earlier this year, I chanced upon a two-panel illustration from illustrator Mari Andrew of a heart with a band-aid around it. In the first panel, the heart said, “Phew, never doing that again.” But the second panel read, “Let’s try that again, now that I know myself better.”
I saved the comic, returning to it every day since whenever I needed to face a fear of rejection that seemed disproportionate to any actual outcome of the situation. Failure and rejection fucking sucks, but it’s far worse to allow that fear to keep me from trying.
The best part of the illustration, however, lies above the two panels. In simple lettering, there is a single word: “Resilience”.