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Rejection as a catalyst for self acceptance and love

Last week, a colleague mentioned that we had over 100 applicants for an intern position he advertised in his department, and of course, there was only space for one. 99 hopeful applicants were unsuccessful, and each one of them will have to deal with the fact that they didn't get the job - they were rejected.

A google search for "how to deal with rejection" returns about 118 million results. The articles on the topic tend to follow fairly similar lines, including titles such as "overcoming rejection", "getting over rejection" and so on. Understandably, the articles tend to focus on how you need to get back on your feet as quickly as possible after you've been rejected.

These articles are super helpful, and include guidance such as:

- Honour your emotions and surround yourself with friends and family as you work through this complex process.

- The fact that you have been rejected is evidence that you are pushing your limits and growing, which you can be proud of.

- Treat yourself with compassion through the process.

- Be introspective and learn what you can from the experience, and then make the necessary changes in your life to decrease your chances of rejection in the future.

To take a quick detour - whilst the advice above is helpful, I personally view all of this advice as tactics to manage the feelings caused by rejection, rather than mechanisms to dissolve the issue entirely.

Let's use a very simple example to illustrate the distinction between tactics and dissolution:

If I experience back pain every day at work because I sit on a crappy chair and my posture is completely out of whack, a tactic to manage the back pain would be to take anti-inflammatories every day. I will be pain free, but I haven't solved the problem, and it's only a matter of time before the problem rears its head again. As an alternative, the path to dissolve the back pain entirely would be to get a new chair and correct my posture. In the former I'm not solving the root cause of the problem, I'm just managing the symptoms. In the latter, I'm dissolving the root cause.

Okay, so getting back to the point on rejection:

Rejection is inevitable in our lives, and it's going to happen a lot. We can choose to employ tactics to try and manage the emotional fallout of rejection, or we can choose to address the root cause and dissolve the issue:

The opposite of rejection is acceptance, and only you can ever truly accept yourself.

If that sounds like an abstract or woo woo thing to say, I can assure you it's not. It's very practical, but it will require bravery and introspection like never before, and it may well be the work of a lifetime.

Let's say that you're one of the applicants for the intern position, and you do get the job. Hooray! Fantastic. For a while you will feel the buzz of being validated by the team you've been employed by, and and that dreaded sense of rejection is kept at bay. It's only a matter of time before you volunteer an idea to your new boss at a meeting in front of your colleagues which is rejected, and you get thrown back into that feeling of unworthiness, or not being good enough. It's only a matter of time before you apply for a promotion, only to find out that your colleague got it and you didn't.

If we place our sense of self worth outside of ourselves, it's not a question of if, but rather when, the rejection of others will knock us down. Rejection is absolutely inevitable, and it's a tiring game to keep trying to please those around you in order to receive their validation and acceptance.

Okay, so if that opposite of rejection is acceptance, and only you can truly accept yourself, how the heck do you do that?

The first step is to do a quick check in with yourself to see if you conditionally or unconditionally accept who you are right now:

- Do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt in difficult or confusing times?

- Do you only cheer yourself on when you feel positive and/or accomplish external goals?

- Are you “allowed” to have an off day or an unproductive week without lapsing into self-judgment and self-loathing?

- Do you stand up for yourself when others discourage you?

Answering these questions will reveal if you currently accept yourself conditionally or unconditionally. Conditional acceptance means you only love yourself when you’re performing well, which likely means that you actually love the achievements rather than your self. I would hazard a guess that almost everyone reading this post, which most definitely includes me, would fall into the conditional acceptance category. For many of us, self-acceptance is a foreign path that we only embark on after years of self-rejection. It's a path we embark on after realising that no matter how many external accomplishments we wrack up, they will never fill the void we create for ourselves by not accepting who we are.

My personal definition of love is the acceptance of all that is, exactly as it is.

This is a lovely principle in theory, but deeply challenging to live when it comes to self love, because no one else knows us the way we know ourselves, and no one else can see the dark corners of our psyches the way we can, and no one else feels the shame for our past actions like we do.

It's the opportunity (and the invitation) of a lifetime to realise that we're all in this together, and that the purpose of life in many ways is to use the experience to navigate back to true love for ourselves and others.

This is not to say that you shouldn't have boundaries for yourself and others, or that you shouldn't want yourself or others to do better or change their ways, but the energy that underpins these "improvements" can be that of love. Having accepted what is, these changes become a playful creative expression of life's potential, the lack of which doesn't result in a loss of love. Easy to say, very hard to do.

On this path of self acceptance, we will be called to do a lot of things which seem counter-intuitive. Most especially, we will be called to accept that there never has been, and never will be, another you. That alone is worth celebrating, that alone is worth loving, and that alone is worthy of acceptance. Our perfectly imperfect expression of life, with all of the baggage we've accumulated, could not be any other way than it is. Here we are. Can we love ourselves right now, and navigate our future from this place of acceptance?

I've been starting every day with this 15-minute priming exercise by Tony Robbins. It includes a bit of breath work, loving kindness, gratitude and visualisation. It's a great exercise to get your body and mind into the state of love and appreciation first thing in the morning before the momentum of the day sweeps you into everyone else's business. This state shift on a daily basis can act as a catalyst for the love and acceptance you show yourself every day.

When you accept yourself, the rejection of others is experienced as an interesting turn in your life rather than a fundamental threat to who you are. When you accept yourself, you will bring more of your innate potential into this world, and refrain from hiding in the shadows of life that feel safe. When you accept yourself, you will be able to accept others, and enable them to step into their potential.

Self acceptance is a choice, not a gift.


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