How to Reframe Rejection So It Ultimately Makes You Stronger
Your worst fear (rejection!) can actually help you—if you let it.
There’s no way around it: Rejection, whether in your personal life or professional career, can be as tough as it is inevitable. Any time I experience rejection—big or small—I find myself wondering how anyone is supposed to handle something so debilitating. So I went to some pros for guidance.
The first is entrepreneur John Jacobs, cofounder of Life Is Good. Founded in 1994, Life Is Good is successful by pretty much any standard today. The brand now has around 200 employees and dozens of best-selling designs and products. But like any story worth telling, the company didn’t start out that way. It started with cofounders and brothers, John and Bert Jacobs, selling T-shirts with their drawings out of their van. They had to learn from rejection early on.
The second is Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist, psychology lecturer, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do. She’s also the host of Mentally Strong People, her brand-new podcast. Having suffered the loss of two loved ones in her early 20s, Morin has dedicated her career to exploring the best (and worst) ways to cope with loss and rejection, including what drives resilient individuals to take even the biggest setbacks in stride.
Here are their most worthy takeaways.
“Rejection can be your best teacher and trainer, but it requires listening to the ‘why’ objectively and growing from there,” Jacobs says. “Easier said than done, but the more rejection, big or small, that you can weather, the more you realize it shapes you into a wiser, more compassionate and stronger person,” he says.
It might just be the best thing that can happen to you, but this is dependent on whether or not you allow yourself to grow from it.
Morin says labeling your feelings caused by the rejection can be incredibly helpful. You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge.
“The first thing to do is pay attention to your emotions and label your feelings,” she says. “Studies show that just putting a name to your emotions can take a lot of the sting out of them. That might mean acknowledging that you're sad, embarrassed, angry, disappointed— whatever you’re experiencing.”
Fear of rejection is such a real thing because rejection directly triggers one of our greatest vulnerability. We often perceive it as a blow to our self-worth, something we’re hard-wired to protect at all costs. As a result, a range of negative emotions can surface after hearing a "no" or other feedback. These feelings vary depending on the circumstances of your rejection. Rejection for a job position could leave you confused and angry, or maybe anxious and hopeless. Rejection by a friend or significant other can make you embarrassed, lonely, hurt, and resentful. Awareness of specific emotions by naming them help you anticipate how you might respond and cope with them.
Morin recommends taking several deep breaths to ease physical symptoms of stress, like accelerated heart rate, in the moment. “You might also need strategies to calm your mind,” she says. “Repeating a quick affirmation like, ‘I'm OK,’ can help drown out some of the negative chatter running through your head.” These sound like small actions, but when used regularly they’re surprisingly effective.
Jacobs describes going to college campuses trying to sell their shirts—and while it was tough, some of the most impactful feedback came from moments of rejection.
“It’s hard in the moment, but how you frame that rejection is critical,” he says. “The harshest criticism we heard from students and retailers early on was ultimately the most valuable because it forced us to evolve our designs.”
Seeing rejection as a redirection is fairly critical, even if it comes in your personal, rather than professional, life. The most important thing to remember is that you need to take time to acknowledge your feelings, and then get some distance from the situation in order to see things more objectively (not easy, but definitely doable). Taking a new perspective allows you to turn the rejection into an opportunity of learning. How could you have handled yourself differently? What role might you have played in the situation, and how can you improve in your next conversation, relationship, or interview?
“If you practice good self-care, work through your feelings rather than avoid them, and practice healthy coping skills, you can heal much faster than if you simply skip the grief,” Morin says.