Why We Need To Keep Rejection Within Arm’s Reach

I didn’t want to open the letter. Inside the envelope I knew I would receive one of two messages: an invitation to a new adventure or a notice of rejection.

At least that’s how I initially perceived it.

As is normal for me, I had been preparing myself for rejection, rather snuff out my hope now, than have it trampled on later, I thought. I am a classic case study in the behavior Brene Brown calls “foreboding joy.”

She describes my awkward relationship with joy when she says, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

I knew it was a risk to begin with. I didn’t know my odds of being accepted, but I automatically figured they were low. I readied myself for imminent refusal while I awaited their response.

Of course, I also left a smidgen of space for my pre-meditated, disparaging scene to be cut from the plot altogether. Perhaps the possibility of a new adventure was waiting to surprise me. I had to admit this would be an incredible opportunity, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

I opened the letter, my hands and heart quivering, excitement and anxiety both coming to the surface now.

I needed only to skim the first two sentences.

“Thank you so much…” and “Unfortunately…”   

I folded up the paper, stuffing it quickly back in its envelope. I threw it back into the stroller and walked down the driveway again with my toddler in tow. My husband came along too and did his best to console me with sentences like, “Well, you tried…” or “I bet there was a lot of applicants…”

You tried.

I hated the sound of that phrase. Always have.

It transports me back to all the experiences where my efforts were applauded and accepted, worthy and admirable, but didn’t quite make the cut. Your name crossed off the list of participants. Ouch.

As you might expect, our tendency to practice foreboding joy is not a reliable technique for avoiding disappointment or pain. It still comes on strong, sometimes forcing us to the ground on all fours. Affliction is woven into our every day existence. There is no way of unraveling ourselves from the sadness that seems to sneak up on even those who hold the prettiest smiles.  

I finished walking off the stinging sensation, surprising myself with how well I snapped out of my self-pity. By the time I reached the house, I knew what I had to do.

I snatched up the letter from the stroller and walked into the kitchen. Rather than throwing it into the recycle, as I was planning, with all the other junk mail, I tucked it away.

No big deal, you might be thinking. Not for me, this was my line in the sand. 

Beyond the thank you and the unfortunately memo, I was beginning, slowly beginning, to make out another message: Congratulations, you have now turned a corner in this adventure! Welcome.

The paradox obvious, yet still hard to take in. What we so often perceive as refusal is actually an alluring appeal for us to keep taking risks.

Sure, there might not be room for us or our ideas at this time. Maybe we don’t quite fit the criteria for the group or the job or the class. But here’s where rejection can yield stunning resilience.

Instead of abandoning our efforts, resolving never to try something like that again, we can clear a new path, and turn the corner with tender tears and gracious gumption.

It wasn’t easy for me to save that letter, to keep rejection within arm’s reach at all times. But isn’t this where joy resides, I wondered.

Doesn’t joy sit somewhere smashed between the thank yous and the unfortunatelys of our lives, our daring risks and inevitable failures, between our humble attempts and our tenacity to keep trying anyways?

If you ask me, joy loves to hang out here, waiting for us to read between the lines because it knows there’s always another story to see, a corner we have yet to turn.     


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