“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
- Winston Churchill
“Today’s rejection may become tomorrow’s acceptance.”
― Ehsan Sehgal
Everyone deals with rejection and failure.
This is something we sign up for the day we are born. We face it almost everywhere we go, yet somehow, I’m not sure it ever gets any easier.
It’s important to note that failure and rejection are for the most part subjective. You may look at an experience and feel like you've failed, while someone on the outside looking in may view your experience as a win. I’m not here to debate what failure and rejection are and what they are not. It’s an individual experience that we will ALL face and feel and it’s hard.
As a former athlete playing at a highly competitive DI program, I faced rejection almost every day on and off the field. As a former college coach I remember countless attempts to handle situations with players or my other coaches that failed miserably. As an entrepreneur I have faced dismissal, being outright ignored and told “No” more than “Yes.” I’ve made many attempts to roll out various programs or launch something like an online platform and phone app that went so far south I couldn’t recover. As a 31 year old single woman trying to navigate the landscape of our f-ed up dating culture I have faced rejection and heartbreak more times than I can count.
When it comes to rejection and failure in general there is a lot of talk about how we HAVE to fail and face rejection.
“In order to grow we have to fail.”
“Rejection is simply redirection.”
“We progress in life by failing.”
“A NO today could be a YES tomorrow.”
“Fail and fail often.”
“It’s only a failure if we don’t learn.”
Ok, great. I can get behind that because I agree with all of these statements at times. But what seems to be the hardest part about rejection and failure is what accompanies it. It’s the constant rumination, sadness and frustration that come knocking at the most inconvenient times. The noisy and relentless self talk consisting of “shoulds'' and “shouldn'ts” come crawling at night. There’s always the potential for fear and anxiety and the uncertainty that comes with not really knowing if it’s all going to work out. Rarely are we having the conversation about HOW to fail. How do we move through and navigate this? How do we PROCESS failure? How do we emotionally and cognitively wrap our brains and our hearts around being rejected?
If I had all the answers to this I think I’d be a lot wealthier than I am. I have encountered two experiences in the last few weeks that have launched me to take a hard look at these exact questions.
The first experience was a heartfelt conversation with a professional athlete who has become a dear friend. I love this work because of the conversations and connections that arise. I found myself throughout this conversation about rejection and failure wanting to simply reach out, hold this athlete by the hand and provide some magic answer for their experience. I didn’t have one.
The second experience is my own. For the past few weeks I have been sitting in the feeling of rejection. It’s not a great head space and ironically, even with the line of work I do I tend to ruminate and spiral to some really dark places. Needless to say, I haven’t been handling it well at all.
So in this journey to “do the work” and “practice what I preach” and to help my dear friend through their experience, I realized that I kept coming back to this running dialogue in my head about rejection and failure:
“I know that this is part of life.”
“I know that eventually I’m going to be OK and eventually it’s not going to hurt….. but F*** this hurts.”
“Why does this suck so much?”
“Time. It’s all about time. time will heal.”
“What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“What do I do right here right now?”
“HOW do I deal with this?”
I found myself more often than not running from stillness and quiet because it is here that my thoughts and feelings around rejection and failure become deafening. If I just keep busy and distract myself well enough then I won’t have to be consumed by it. I think many of us feel this way. But is this actually helping us? Is this actually the way through? I know it’s not, but at the moment I still struggled to give myself what I needed. These questions are ones that I certainly don’t have all the answers to but in posing these to myself one night mid cry I decided I needed to get curious.
This article is not by any means meant to be a HOW TO, but I believe in the power of sharing because when we share we understand that we are not alone in this crazy thing called life. What follows is an in depth series into HOW we deal with rejection and failure. This is a compilation of my own thoughts, the questions I am asking myself and the notes I have been taking in my own journal daily as I navigate a very real and raw personal experience with rejection and failure. It also draws on past experiences, advice from loved ones and friends, and the latest research in emotional navigation and compassion. This also draws on the MANY conversations I have had with athletes over the years of doing this work (and coaching) when facing these hard moments. Through all of this I have landed on 10 Principles that I believe are critical to keep in mind when navigating failure and rejection. But I also believe that these can be applied to so much more. When I think back on some of the darkest and hardest times in my life I have used all of these.
10 Principles for Navigating Failure and Rejection
My attempt here is not to tell you how to deal with failure and rejection but to share with you my own personal experience in hopes that it gives you some ideas for the future. These principles may not apply to everyone or be applicable to every experience of failure or rejection and thats OK. My goal is to simply give you some concepts and practices to think about the next time the feeling of failure or rejection come your way.
Over the next few weeks I will be releasing these 10 Principles to you. I am not sure that there is a true “order” to these because very rarely is our healing or navigation of tough stuff linear. How we cope and navigate is often a whirlwind, back and forth, two steps forward one step back kind of deal. What I will say is that:
-Getting Clear on Your Emotions and Feelings
-Processing Your Emotions and Feelings
-Accepting What Is. Notice Resistance
…are three pieces to the puzzle that I try to do sooner rather than later. But I also know that these three “steps” take time and so they are something that you have to continue to WALK IN rather than complete and move on when facing rejection and failure.
With my current experience I feel like I am doing all of these every day and sometimes that is what is required to navigate rejection and failure. As I continue to check in on my dear friend with regards to their experience it is the exact same. This is messy and it’s hard. The main message that I leave you with is that this is all a never ending process. Life is a cyclical pattern of success and failure, ups and downs and good and bad.
Let’s dive in.