The Importance of being OK with Rejection

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”
Epictetus

The feeling of freedom. Carefree, light, unrestrained. 

The relief after you put a big sack of rocks down after having hold it unnecessarily for months.

The promise of virtue and character is freedom. Lovely, liberating freedom. 

Not long ago, I found myself lost in the Pico de Orizaba’s glacier, the tallest mountain in Mexico. A fog came in, it was impossible to see anything. My phone was dead, whereas there was no signal anyway. I didn’t have a compass either. I was guiding a team of Philadelphians. Add to that the knowledge in my head of a crevasse that had just opened on the season, supposedly 15 meters deep. I had no idea where it was, I was walking snail slow.

My heart pumped madly. I was terrified inside my head but still managed to keep a confident demeanor. Given the circumstances, I judge it best to wait for another team to get down so that we could use their GPS and follow them, at least till the end of the glacier. First thing I did the next day in the city, buying a GPS of course. 

Stupidness aside, mission accomplished. I focused on what I could control and did what needed to be done. 

Flash forward a week later. I found myself in a coffee place working on my laptop. As I sipped from my mug, a beautiful red-headed girl sits down next to me. I keep working while wondering in my head if I should ask her out. It’s hard to concentrate. And I kid you not, when I finally made the decision to ask her out, in my head, and told myself, this is it, my heart pumped just as hard or harder than when I was in the bloody mountain with death actually being close by. In an all-safe coffee place. 

What the hell was that? 

Fear of rejection of course. The fear of scorn. Fear of her laughing at me and telling me how ugly and awkward I am. 

I did it anyway. 

Hahaha. She said yes. 

What’s important to analyze with my little story is, why do we fear rejection so freaking much? 

You fear it, as a man, when you want to ask a girl out (I imagine the same with you girls?). You also feel it when you’re going to a job interview or asking for a raise, the butterflies, the squeezed guts. You feel it as well, especially, when you’re going to speak to a crowd. 

Bear this in mind. I felt the same fear when I was in actual life-danger as when I was about to a girl. WTF.

What do you make of this? 

If a girl says no, you don’t die, physically, but what about psychologically? What is it that you guard so fiercely? So much so that you prefer to go about your life without experiencing great love or great jobs or business opportunities for the fear of being rejected? Isn’t it crazy?

It seems that the fear of rejection happens because we don’t want to die in any way.

The paralyzing effects of the fear of rejection

The fear of rejection will paralyze you. 

Take the examples I just gave you. It will stop you from finding a partner, it will stop you from looking for a job, or a better job, it will make it impossible to ask for a raise and better your life. It makes change impossible. 

I think we hit something important here, the word change. 

Change implies death.

 Maybe that’s why we fear rejection so much? Because rejection will put a light on what doesn’t work in you, and needs to change? It puts a light on your insecurities and shortcomings. You don’t want to let them go. So you’d rather stay in the dark with your ego. Even if that means staying alone and incompetent. It’s nothing more than a slower death.

Fear of rejection is paralyzing. 

It’s so very much like slavery. You don’t rule over yourself, you don’t decide, fear decides. The fear tells you what you can and cannot do, all in the name of keeping you “safe”. 

Now. What would happen if you were ‘OK’ with rejection? 

Character and vulnerability

To learn how to dies is to unlearn how to be a slave. — Seneca

Rejection is the closest feeling there is akin to death. 

You put yourself in a vulnerable position, you do what you can, groom yourself, get in a good shape, study like crazy, and then you await either the rewards or the knives and arrows thrown to the heart. 

Her saying yes or no, your boss giving you the raise or not, whatever, is not under your control. That is why it is so scary. You can only do so much, but in the end, you find yourself on a 30-meter cliff from which you have to jump.

Sure, you can choose not to jump, and stay safe up there. But there is no freedom without the jump. You have to jump. 

What is the most valuable thing in life? 

In Stoic philosophy, it’s virtue, or said with another word, character

A person with Character puts his capacity to make the jump, to choose freedom and courage over fear, above everything else. It doesn’t matter what the answer is, whether it is positive or negative, you did your thing, which is acting with courage, nothing else is better than that. 

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It can only be achieved with character.

You cannot be free without that bet. Without putting rejection below your capacity for courage. 

Virtue and freedom are very much the same thing. You cannot have freedom if you aren’t virtuous. If you choose character over fear, you choose freedom. Rejection and fear are not going to drive you anymore, but your sense of what is truly important. 

Change and death happen when you jump off the cliff. You change. 

Rejection teaches you the harshest lessons in life. And there will be no space for your previous ‘you’ once you go through it. 

Unlearn how to be a slave. Choosing to face rejection is choosing the possibility of parts of you dying. But you’ve found something better than keeping petty parts of your ego! You’ve found the character that transcends the pettiness. Something that is also yours.

Sure, you were rejected, but you put your character and your balls first. Now, that is badass. That is unlearning how to be a slave. 

When you stop being afraid of rejection, you become free to be who you want and do what you want. Fear is not going to drive you anywhere but underneath a rock. 

With time, I imagine, you’ll be ready to die. Because you know that you put what matters to you first, above petty fears and the unimportant. 

Character and virtue above anything else equal freedom. 

There is nothing better than freedom. 

Thanks for reading, 

Ricardo 

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7 Comments

  1. Hello ricardo_ thanks for another great article. like water off a ducks back, that’s How rejection should be treated. if you are rejected too many times in a row, It can be quite hard to deal with , but it must be dealt with , that’s just part of the game. air hugs-

  2. Hello Ricardo, I like your style of writing, and the fact that you are giving it a Stoic spin merits my interest. Do you mind if I ask you a few soul-reaching questions to help me assess where you stand in your philosophy?
    Regards,
    Jason

    “To prepare oneself for death is to prepare oneself for freedom. The one who has learned to die has unlearned to be a slave.” – Montaigne

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