Do you remember the first time you had to handle rejection? I do. I was was eight years old when I learned that I had just been dropped from my school's football team. It was the biggest disappointment of my young life and I didn't handle it well at all.
I thought this would be the worst day of my life until Friday the 12 September 2008 — just over 10 years later. I had finally mustered up the courage to ask a girl I liked to be my girlfriend and I was determined to sweep her off her perfect feet.
Thanks to my sharp investigative skills (before it was called stalking) I found out that Linda, my flawless and peach-lotion-scented crush, had always dreamed of going to Paris. Unfortunately, I was a matric student with very little money to my name. I decided to do my best to bring Paris to her instead.
Picture the cliché, boombox outside your bedroom window thing, but with French music, wine, a baguette, a miniature French flag and a few other trinkets. I had written a poem too; It was all romantic AF.
She said no.
In fact, it was the ultimate "any girl would be lucky to have you, just not me" kind of no. I felt dejected, thinking this was my lowest point in life. How wrong I was.
True rock bottom came about two years later when, as a varsity student, I was fired from my part-time job as a waiter. The manager called me into his office and let me down as gently as he could but the long and the short of it was that I was "too nice" to work in his restaurant.
That should have been it. The rejection stamp that broke the camel's back, or something like that. I realised that if I was too nice to be a waiter then I really must be an elite level reject.
For some reason my ADD-plagued mind suggested I look up the dictionary definition of the word "elite" and I'm glad I did because what I read changed my life forever. Here is the definition:
"A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society."
In simple terms, I realised that I was much, much better at finding ways to be rejected than most people. They say you should stick to what you're good at in life so I embarked on a journey to face as much rejection as possible. As it turns out, rejection was the greatest, character building thing that had ever happened to me.
Here are three valuable things I was able to discover after I stopped beating myself up about always being turned down:
You learn many of lessons
My many (many) rejections were lessons from the greatest of tutors, Life herself. Being dropped from the football team taught me that your spot isn't guaranteed if you don't work hard enough to keep it. Through being rejected by Linda I learned that there will be times that a girl wants that dream gesture from a great guy. However, that guy won't always be you and that's okay bro.
As humans, we are wired to learn from mistakes and misfortune. The more of this you experience, the more educated you become.
You get familiar with rejection
When you're so familiar with the taste of rejection, like one of your aunt's awful signature side dishes at a Sunday lunch, you stop fearing it because you know what to expect. You find ways to cope, just like you learned that you need to learn how to fake a deadly illness that keeps you away from the table when your aunt is visiting
Constant rejection builds resilience and when you're no longer afraid of being unsuccessful, you take more risks than ever. Not everything sticks, but your success rate goes up with time. Maybe it's because of the third point.
You start going places
We all feel like we know exactly what we need at any moment in time. "If I get this job, I can finally start living the life I want" but maybe life has much greater plans for you.
When you're rejected from something you really want right now, you only work harder to find more and more opportunities. When you couple your resilience with the lessons you've been learning through your multi-decade streak of rejections, you have all the potential to take yourself to places you never imagined.
The opposite of losing is usually "winning" but it can also be "finding". Stop pursuing imaginary victories and focus on using your rejection as a compass to find your greater purpose.