Sylvester Stallone may not seem like the most obvious source of inspirational quotes around rejection, but on the subject he says: “I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”
It can be easier said than done. Being knocked back - whether it’s your love life or at work - can undermine your self-confidence, and according to neuroscience, it can actually sometimes physically hurt because of the way the brain processes the emotion.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get better at handling rejection. One of the starting points is to realise that every single person, no matter how sorted or successful they appear to be, goes through rejection of both kinds, at some point in their lives.
Talking to HuffPost UK, author and writer Laura Jane Williams suffered a spectacular set back, when the man she thought she was going to marry ended up marrying her best friend. Although it was a painful time, she recalls that it helped strengthen her own sense of self.
“From that I learned to trust that I am okay on my own,” she says. “I had probably stayed with him about two years longer than I should’ve, because I just did NOT want to be alone. But finally being alone I suddenly flew to Paris and then worked in Italy, and made some of my very best friends that last into my thirties, now. So from heartbreak I learned: god, you’ve gotta have a good relationship with yourself before you put all your eggs in somebody else’s basket!”
Having a strong sense of self is essential to learning how to handle rejection because all too often, we feel it’s our fault.
Writing for HuffPost, Ellen Goodlett says: “Learn from it — and I don’t mean learn how to be better next time. Chances are, unless you choked in an interview or coughed soup all over your date, the rejection wasn’t your fault.
“The match (whether professional, creative, academic or romantic) simply wasn’t meant to be. Don’t dwell on it, don’t regret it. Just move on to the next door. Eventually one of them will be hanging wide open, and you’ll find it’s the door you were meant to walk through all along.”
Learning how to let go of certain setbacks can also lead you to achieving a much bigger dream.
When Sophie Scott started wellbeing magazine Balance, everyone thought she was mad because ‘print was in decline’. But although she faced obstacles while trying to set the magazine up, she stayed true to her goal.
“I have faced a lot of rejection,” she says to HuffPost UK, “and still continue to, almost daily. It’s all part of an entrepreneur’s journey. When you have a strong vision, the universe will always throw up obstacles. I’ve never really doubted the mission, but I doubt myself most days and always want to develop and improve, personally and professionally.”
The reason why rejection can be so undermining is because it is hard to extricate the event of rejection from your sense of self. But Laura Jane has some sage advice in learning how to keep the two things separate.
“For me, I really try to remind myself that I am Not The Thing,” she says. “If my work or veggie lasagna or outfit is complimented as the best thing to ever have existed, or lambasted as the worst thing to ever have been seen, it does not mean that by extension me, as a person, is brilliant or terrible.
“Things I make or do are not the sum of who I am - sometimes I will do or make something a bit crap, but I, myself, am not crap!”
So what do you learn from being rejected?
Laura Jane says humility, learning how to swallow your pride and also resilience. She says: “Rejection has made me so resilient to pressing on - to knowing rejection hasn’t killed me yet, so really - what is there to lose?”
“When something is your ‘baby’ and passion, it’s easy to take rejection and setbacks personally. But I’m certainly thicker-skinned these days, because I know that everyone’s paradigm is totally unique. You can’t convince everybody to back your vision.”
It also, as Ellen says, may be a necessary event to understanding what you want and need, in a deeper way.
“Sometimes rejection helps us evaluate,” she writes. “I was fired from my first job as an administrator. I hate numbers, I am not detail-oriented and I was lousy in a support role.
“The rejection made me realise what I am not suited to and made me assess what I am good at. My subsequent careers have been rewarding, fulfilling and awesome. I needed the wake up call to get out of for me what was a completely unfitting job.”
Above all, what rejection creates is the confidence to try, try again.
“In a way,” says Laura Jane, “it has made me braver. I’ve suffered rejection and lived to tell the tale thus far, and so why not shoot for the stars? If I don’t land amongst them, I truly now know the world will not end.”