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Rejection: How do you put your all into something without feeling lost if you don’t get it?

Jenny Flannagan photo Jenny Flannagan · 03 Aug, 2020

“I had to audition to get into a group I REALLY wanted to be in, and I didn’t get in. I know it’s not personal, and in fact no one I know got in, they only took a couple of people. But it feels like a real rejection and I put so much into it. How do you put your all into something without feeling lost if you don’t get it?"

Maddy, 15

I’m really sorry you didn’t get into the group Maddy. And this is a great question to wrestle with because we are all going to face rejection at different times in our life, and it’s going to really help if we can prepare for it. It really hurts when we put so much of ourselves into something and we get turned away - sometimes it can be totally brutal. At that point it can be tempting to decide we’re never going to put ourselves through that again, and we can stop trying out for things at all. It’s understandable that we want to look after ourselves, but I think you’re asking absolutely the right question, which is to say - how do we not give up when it feels so bad? Where do we find the strength, or energy or positivity to keep trying again?
I could tell you (from personal experience) that there are all kinds of ridiculous reasons we don’t get in after auditions. Sometimes the people doing the auditioning have already decided on who gets through before they even start. Sometimes they have 1000 applicants and 2 spaces and the odds are just crazy. Sometimes they have the weirdest set of specific criteria (this kind of nose, this shape of mouth…). Sometimes they are just terrible judges of ability. Sometimes they are looking for specific gaps to plug (eg I have 13 tenors in my choir who all look the same and I just need someone who looks different to them).
But I think there’s a better answer to your question which is more about you, and how you keep giving in the face of rejection. All of us will face it at some point, even if we don’t end up doing jobs that means we face potential rejection daily (hello careers in the performing arts). We will all have the opportunity to apply for things that we really really want - a job, a course, an opportunity, or even asking out someone we really really like - and some of them are going to end in rejection.
So I think about this at both ends - before the potential rejection, and afterwards.
To start with I always come back to the question about who I think I am. All kinds of people in the world will have opinions on you - including those who are going to reject you - but you don’t have to see them as more important than who YOU think you are. And who YOU think you are might be based on all kinds things - it will probably be a mixture of who you feel you are deep down inside, some of what your parents think (maybe!), some of what your friends think about you, and if you have a faith that could also be a big component. Who does God tell me that I am?
It really matters that we hold onto who we think we are (and I know that we’re all still working it out!) and who we want to be. And when I’m applying for something I remind myself - whatever the outcome here, those things haven’t changed. I’m not less of a person, less worthwhile, less lovable, because this one person said no to me today. And even when it comes to the specific thing I’m showing them - they are not the final word on my potential. Most of the world’s successful authors have files full of rejection letters. But they held onto their dreams and their sense of who they were, and they kept going. The most worthwhile things in life are often the hardest, and that means we will fail at them before we succeed.
But what about when you get rejected and you feel horrible and all those good intentions seem to have disappeared? It’s really important to be honest about how disappointed we feel and not try to pretend we’re fine. It might just be one person we trust enough to confide in, but that’s all it takes. Talking about it helps us process it and move through it; locking it up and hiding those feelings means they just stick around longer, making us feel worse. And I recommend not isolating yourself either, but being with people who love us - friends or family - helps us to remember that we’re still the same people we were before. And often they can help us relax and recover.

Jenny

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