One of the first pieces I ever wrote when I began my writing journey was an ‘Open Letter for When You’re Not Chosen.’ I was grieving hard over a rejection and, in my delirious, overly emotional state, I wrote a letter about how humans are like popcorn—not everyone chooses to snack on them at the cinema, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tasty. I’m pretty sure I was dreaming that Cobbs would read it and sponsor me with a lifetime supply of Sweet and Salty.
Even though the feeling of rejection was the catalyst that broke the writing dam, I’ve been incredibly reluctant to openly publish any pieces about it. Unpacking rejection would mean having to talk publicly about the humiliating events leading up to it and admit that yes, I have been rejected.
But if we want to break the stigma, then we must also be the first to make a move. If we want others to feel safe about being vulnerable, then we’re going to have to be the first to shed some skin.
So here it goes.
Rejection is an issue I’ve had to wrestle hard with over the last three years. Every time Rejection and I had to face off in the boxing arena, I would always end up slammed and pinned down. In boxing, you have ten seconds to get yourself up before the game is over. For me, it took months before I could even peel my head off the floor.
On its face, it can appear that no two rejections are alike. Some are painful stings that last momentarily and can be quickly soothed. Others begin as an ache that continues to throb and flare up over a long period of time.
I have friends who barely bat an eye if a date went badly, but would sob over pints of ice cream if their job application is turned down. Now that we’re in a season where we have to apply for clerkship and grad offers, we hear more about the rejection emails than we do the acceptance calls. In the writing world, I see people mourning the rejection of their book deals and constantly asking for feedback on their pitches. For me, it was the area of romantic rejection that caused the most grief. I’m learning that the area that hurts the most is where we put our worth. As much as we try to conceal it online, everyone goes through rejection.
When you really dig deep, you’ll find that rejection—no matter what area of our life it hits—is actually the same for all of us. In fact, it’s laughable how repetitive it is. The more I experience it, the more I learn that there’s no creativity or innovation in the painful feelings that overwhelm us.
Rejection is programmed to tell you that you’re not good enough. Like a bad record on repeat, it’ll tell you that you mustn’t be worth a lot. That you were never a worthy contender in the game you’ve made up in your head. Even when we know deep down that we dodged a bullet, Rejection will still slap a label on you declaring ‘Not Chosen.’
The word ‘chosen’ is a constant theme in my life. I have always wanted to be chosen by someone. I wanted to be someone’s first pick in the team of Life instead of always being second best. Plan A instead of Plan B.
I want to pause and say that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be picked. I know there are people out there tearing themselves apart because they think there’s something hopeless about feeling this way. It’s human nature to want to be seen and known, and yes, chosen. To anyone who thinks there must be something defective in them because they feel this way, stop believing that. There’s nothing wrong with you.
The desire to be picked flared up a couple years ago when I became deeply infatuated with someone I really wanted to call ‘mine.’ I built up the feelings and replayed the fantasies so much in my head that when I found out somebody was already in the picture, I shattered. It literally felt like someone had punched me in the face and kicked me in the stomach at the same time.
The months after became a full-blown battle between my head and my feelings. I’m talking a “Hunger Games” style fight to the death. Every insecurity would swarm into my mind wielding weapons and slicing down every rational, positive thought I tried to have. Unresolved questions such as Why aren’t I chosen? or Is it because I’m not good/pretty enough? or When will I be picked? would pervade my mind and interrupt my sleep at night.
Friends had to nurture me back to life with constant reassuring phone calls, and Netflix was a brilliant numbing tool for the pain. Every time it felt like I was making progress, I would be dragged back down again whenever I lurked too hard on social media or witnessed something I didn’t want to see.
Amongst the many helpful conversations I had with my loved ones, the one I remember most happened while I was double-fisting burgers. What began as a light-hearted banter between a friend and I quickly turned into me trying desperately not to become a bawling mess in the crowded restaurant.
“It sucks that I’m not chosen,” I said while trying to hold back tears in my eyes.
“Yeah but you have to be the one that chooses them too,” she told me. “Is this person really your first choice?”
I think rejection hurts so much because we believe it’s one-sided. We believe that the other party has all the power to either accept or reject us, when actually, we get to play a massive part in the decision-making process, as well. It’s one thing to be chosen. It’s another thing entirely to choose them back.
In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t choose any of the people I thought were rejecting me. I eventually discovered that there was a severe mismatch of character. A difference in our life’s calling. An inconsistency with our values. The color of their eyes and a crooked smile won’t hide the fact that they’re incompatible with your desires and ambitions.
When you make a choice—whether that be your grad job, your literary agent or the person you want to date—you want to be sure that they’re the right fit. Apart from that person’s looks or the reputation of that firm you want to work at, you want to be sure that you’re making a decision that’s good and durable in the long run. Not just in the moment.
Of course, I didn’t want to hear any of this while I was in the spiral of feeling rejected and lost in self-loathing. I believed that there was someone out there keeping track of all my rejections, just to use it against me later. Spoiler alert: No one is keeping score. That’s just you.
One night, when I was in the thick of my heartache and wondering if I’d ever feel peace in this area, I heard a voice say very clearly that ‘the victory will be sweet.’ Some will call this voice my intuition, but I like to think of it as God comforting me that night.
Sure enough, the peace came a few months later.
I had gotten so used to the pain that sat dully on my chest, that I felt empty when I noticed it was gone. Then I realized it was because I felt weightless. Now that he and I get to reclaim the title ‘friends,’ I can feel just how euphoric the victory is. Now it’s the hopeful reminder I tell anyone feeling the ache of rejection: the victory will be sweet.
Where there’s rejection, there’s also redemption. You’re allowed to grieve and throw tantrums at the blow to your ego. You’re allowed to feel sad and angry and wonder when it’ll be your turn to be picked. But above all, know that the point of this life isn’t to be chosen by everybody, but to treasure those that do.
Rejection serves a purpose that’s far greater than you know. You may not see it while it’s happening, and you may never get the answers to why it had to happen this way. But one day, you’ll be sitting at a job you love, or besides somebody who makes you feel like home, and you’ll think to yourself ‘thank goodness I was saved from that other path.’ Hold out for this moment.
Flip the script that tells you you’re rejected. Cling tightly to your values and your worth. Continue to fight against the lies that tell you you’re not worthy. There will be cuts and bruises and it’ll probably be the hardest battle you’ve ever fought. But any fight to reclaim your mind will always be worth it. Know that you are always good enough, no matter who picks you to be on their team. Maybe the point of all of this is that you finally learn how to pick yourself.
The irony is that I’ll probably publish this and then cry next week because I feel rejected over something else. This only goes to show that there’s no finish line with this thing. I say that a lot because I always thought that once I conquered a painful emotion, I would never have to deal with it again. Now I know that the pain just increases our capacity to experience all the good feelings, too.
For anyone currently going through the ache of a rejection: chin up and eyes forward, babe. The victory will be sweet.
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