Recently I’ve been going through one of the loneliest periods of my life. I took a semester off from school last semester, and it was amazing. I had a dream internship, I was living with my best friend, I was productive and (mostly) happy.
Now I’m back at school. I’ve left Cleveland, my home, my best friends. My girlfriend—who I spent 90% of my freshman and sophomore year with, to the point of not making any new friends—and I broke up during the summer, so that’s gone. I’ve realized I barely know anyone here.
I did a bunch of shit just to meet people. I went to my first college party, not knowing that you’re not supposed to go exactly when it starts and that you’re supposed to go with friends. I went alone. I walked in, didn’t recognize a single person, I walked out. Shit.
It was raining hard that night. I live off-campus, so I couldn’t walk back or I’d get soaked…I remember being stranded under a small awning as rain pounded overhead, shivering, totally humiliated. I thought about calling my ex-girlfriend: how easy it would be to go over to her place, be reassured, watch a movie and fall asleep. But I kept repeating to myself: “You got yourself in this situation. You have to get yourself out of it.”
I made a ton of calls that night, and I actually ended meeting up with some old friends. One of them has already become one of my better friends here. But that was because I didn’t give up. Not knowing anyone motivated me to meet people, as it should. It didn’t break me, though it would have been easy to let it.
Since that night, I went into overdrive. I applied to dozens of organizations, clubs, societies, just trying to find other creative, genuine people. And I actually got turned down and rejected, a lot. Which surprised me. I’d been having such a good run that I forgot what it felt like to be denied.
When I was younger, I had a pretty shitty experience with the way other kids treated me. I was rejected often, sometimes cruelly. But somewhere along the way, I got really motivated to change that. And during my leave, there was nothing but validation, recognition, etc. It felt like a victory lap for the work I’d been putting in since I was 16.
But now I’ve been humbled again. Which is good. It’s important to get grounded every so often. I’ve noticed that successful people fuck up when they lose that—when they forget that they’re just a person, nothing more.
Maybe you’ve just been broken up with. Maybe that group of friends you admire doesn’t like you. Maybe you didn’t get that job you wanted. Maybe the rejections just seem to be piling up and they’re making you feel inadequate, insecure, bad.
In these situations, as in any adverse situation, there are only two responses: trauma or growth. Either you let it hold you back forever or you learn from it.
Rejection can break somebody. I’ve seen friends who, after an intensely difficult breakup, lose years of their lives to drugs and depression. It’s easy to blame yourself when you’ve been rejected. Nice people often do. And sure, you should always reflect if there’s anything you can change on your part. But more importantly, you should recognize what you can’t change.
Both parties have to want something for it to work. If that job rejected you, it means they saw something in you that wouldn’t fit the organization—you should be happy they passed on you. That group that rejected you—why would you want friends who didn’t accept you for who you are? Rejection happens to everyone, so learning how to adapt while not letting it affect your self-esteem is an important skill.
You should look forward to social rejection. I do. At least that’s what I tell myself—every time I’ve been told “no” in the past 5 years it has only motivated me to do better. My proudest accomplishments have come from channeling negativity into positivity. The greatest humans throughout history were masters of this emotional alchemy, turning the bad in their lives into good.
Sure, it’s easy to put yourself in positions where you’ll never be rejected. It’s easy to stay in your room and watch Netflix all night. It’s easy to not hit up the person you want to be friends with, to not ask that one girl on a date. It’s so understandable. Those nerves before a party, that anxiety in your stomach, we all feel that.
But you’re going to suffer if you live like that. Sure, for the night, it’s easier. But as time goes on, you’re going to realize that you missed out on life.
Because rejection is part of life. You have to experience it if you want to reach your potential. Don’t be scared of it—how else are you going to develop drive, ambition, strength?
Try for as many opportunities as you can. If you get rejected, don’t take it personally—just adapt and move on. Introduce yourself to every person you like—who cares if they’re an asshole to you? Ask that boy or girl on a date, it’s just words to say out loud after all. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, and you only have one life.
I promise if you put enough of yourself out there, you’ll get something in return. Even if only 10% of your social opportunities come through, that just means you have to do ten things and you’re guaranteed at least one thing that you want.
Every day I try to put myself out there. I’ll email people I admire, reach out to people I want to be friends with, etc. The night I got rejected from something I really wanted, I got an email from a bestselling author asking me to ghostwrite his next book. That was because I’ve put my writing out there, though I’ve had plenty of people tell me it was shitty and pretentious. I’d be lying if I said their comments didn’t hurt my feelings, if they didn’t make me question my authenticity and ability as a writer. But you have to keep moving, because the alternative (of letting it break you) is much worse.
Letting social rejection hurt is letting whoever rejected you win. You can’t let that happen. No matter whatever bad happens to you, or how many times you get turned down, if you use the God-given willpower that every human has inside of them, and push forward, things will get better. So don’t let social rejection hurt you. Embrace it. The only thing you’ll ever regret is not trying.