In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu said “Care about people’s approval and you will always be their prisoner.” This doesn’t mean you can’t consider what others say, or that others are always wrong in regards to our lives, but it reminds us that feedback we get from others is much more about the person giving it than about us.
I recently felt super rejected when I was spending time with some new friends and I realized I was a third wheel. You know that feeling? You’re excited to meet each other, you make plans to do some fun girly things, and then maybe you realize that you’re gradually being included in the laughter and conversations less and less as the day goes on. You get sideways glances or even eye-rolls when you try to participate. I spent that entire painfully endless day feeling so uncomfortable, not sure if I should just bail out early and let the other two have their fun, maybe assert myself and ask them if I inadvertently offended them or something, or just stay along for the ride and keep out of the way. I remember how I felt like such an idiot. My poor little ego. I just want to be liked.
When I feel rejected and upset, I remind myself of Lao Tzu’s words. It’s nice to be liked, but the diversity of human personalities and experiences makes it impossible to be liked by everyone. This year I’ve worked consciously on Being Okay With Not Being Liked. When I say “Hey, maybe geek culture needs to address the fact that it’s overrun with slut-shaming misogynists” and people tell me I should lay off for a myriad of reasons, I’m okay with them not liking me. When a guy tells me I look prettier when I smile, I’m okay telling him to never say that to a woman again and brushing the barbs of Dislike off my shoulders. This year I lost almost a thousand Twitter followers (is it sad that I noticed?) after I started tweeting more jokes and more activist points of view–that’s a lot of rejection and it hurts when I feel like it’s in reaction to a fundamental part of my personality, but isn’t the net result better than being liked by a thousand more people (or whatever arbitrary measurement we can use)?
In the six months or so that I’ve been trying to become Okay With Not Being Liked, the lesson that emerged is that it feels WAY better to speak up and hear someone say “hey, me too!” or “thank you for mentioning this issue!” or “I never thought of it that way!” than it does to be liked by everyone. When I exposed that part of my personality, it took a while to find people to react positively to it, but the net effect was so much fulfilling to my journey. The truth emerged that Being Okay With Not Being Liked was as much about authenticity as it is about our own mental health and self-care.
The pain of rejection is always tied to our insecurities
For me, I always feel rejected when people don’t get my jokes–since I consider myself a pretty funny person, having a witty quip met with silence (or worse, annoyance) is one of the most devastating blows my ego can take. The more progress I make in addressing my insecurities and making myself feel more confident about my abilities in those areas, the sting of rejection becomes less and less.
Don’t stop aspiring to improve yourself
Let’s be real here–sometimes we earn our rejection. You know a lot, and you’re pretty cool, but you don’t know everything. You don’t have this figured out, and the moment you think you’ve found a person who does, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. We all fail, we all say the wrong thing sometimes, and other people are right to confront us about it. Every rejection offers a chance for reflection–it’s okay to decide that you didn’t deserve it and take a moment for a pity party, but it’s important to ask yourself objectively if this is an opportunity to see your actions from someone else’s point of view and maybe better yourself or admit a mistake.
Write a rejection letter to your past self
Write to yourself explaining why you needed to go through what you have to improve. Or write about any beliefs, paradigms, or pressures you rejected this year and how that has helped cultivate your self-worth.
I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.
Rejection is a tough and deeply personal topic, so I give you my mindful support and compassion if you choose to write about it. If you do and you want to share the link, put it in the comments section below–I’d love to give it a read.