Women tell Women

How to deal with rejection?

— Maya Siegel

Rejection hurts, but it can also be a powerful catalyst for growth.

Everyone experiences rejection and, neurologically speaking, it hurts. MRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain — so much so that research showed taking pain medication reduced the amount of pain people reported and lessened neural pain signaling.

Beyond the physical sensation, rejection makes us feel like we aren’t wanted or don’t belong, which is an evolutionary need. So the next time you feel disappointed and wish you didn’t, remember that your emotional reaction is biological and completely normal! Give yourself time to feel disappointed, to grieve the loss of an opportunity, and to accept it. During this time, take care of yourself (bathe, eat, sleep). Nurture your needs and give yourself compassion.

The next step is to decide how you want to respond to being rejected. I’m 23 years old and have faced countless amounts of rejection, from unrequited love for my best friend to job opportunities I thought would skyrocket my professional career. These experiences hurt a lot in the moment but were ultimately important signals that change and growth were necessary. With this understanding in mind, I am no longer overly fearful of rejection. Instead, I see “no’s” as redirects. 

I consider my rejections opportunities for learning. Consequently, the next step I like to take is to think through the situation that led me to my rejection and hypothesize why the rejection occurred. Oftentimes, I’m asking myself the following; Did I position myself incorrectly? Am I the wrong fit? Did they just prefer someone else? I ask these questions while also remembering that I am not defined by my rejection nor is my worth determined by other people’s validation. 

Next, I determine how I want to take action. After some rejections, I decide to try again. I usually take this approach if I believe I’m a strong fit for an opportunity but didn’t communicate it well. I also go after an opportunity again if I feel like I can become a strong fit by sharpening a skill or speaking with someone who could provide more insight about the opportunity. Other times, I’ll move on. This is the case more often than not for many reasons, one being if the opportunity closes and I cannot go after it again. Another is that some opportunities occur annually, and I grow out of them (either I am no longer a fit or the opportunity no longer benefits me) after a year’s time. Lastly, my personal belief is that opportunities are abundant and the ones meant to be will be. As a result, I am not overly afraid of rejection and often welcome it as an answer; I’d rather know than wonder. 

I am someone who believes and nurtures my potential, and I understand that doing so opens myself up to rejection. By recognizing rejection as an ally to growth, I am able to address my rejections to propel me forward instead of letting them stifle my progress.

In summary, here are the steps I take to deal with rejection:

  • I remember that feeling hurt and disappointed is a normal biological response and give myself time to grieve and accept the rejection,
  • I sit with the situation and try to hypothesize why the rejection occurred, remembering that I am not defined by my rejections nor is my worth determined by other people’s validation,
  • I decide how I want to move forward — is there more work to be done or should I adjust the path I take?
  • I continue to take risks and reach for my dreams. 

Maya Siegel –
Strategist & Environmentalist

Maya Siegel is a digital strategist, social entrepreneur, and environmentalist who loves dreaming big and investing in projects she believes in wholeheartedly. She is the Social Editor at Feminist, the largest women-owned media platform for women, girls, and gender-expansive people and the co-founder of Stories of Consent, an organization devoted to community-based consent education. By sharing personal stories about how affirmative consent looks and feels, Stories of Consent works to make consent education more accessible, actionable, and relatable to young people.