I had an interesting experience a few days ago. Last month I submitted a carefully crafted application to take part in an event that had the potential to accelerate my career in an area I am keen to develop. I was feeling optimistic, hopeful and somewhat confident.
Yesterday I received notice that I had not been selected and unfortunately the panel were unable to provide any feedback on judging or selection criteria. I have to confess that I did not respond – I reacted. My initial reaction was that of unfairness, how on earth can I hope to develop if I’m not provided with any feedback? I replied to the chair of the panel and am yet to receive a response.
Then I remembered – Clare, you’re an expert in resilience! I became curious about my reaction. Was throwing my toys out of the pram, stamping my feet and shaking my fists really helping? I wanted to understand the cause of my emotional reaction and reflect on it because the myriad stories I was telling myself weren’t really helping at all.
This is what I observed once I swapped anger for curiosity:-
- Lack of fairness, inequality and injustice produce visceral reactions in the body and it’s hard (but not impossible) to calm down when the sense of unfairness hits. The part of the brain that is activated when we experience these conditions is the same part of the brain (the insula) that is activated when we see something vile or disgusting – perceived unfairness hits hard
- I experienced a severe ego bruising. Though I wasn’t overly confident, I had already begun preparation and practice for the event and the rejection impacted my sense of status and importance. I often think back to my recent 10 years in Australia where the advice on such upset would usually come in the form of “build a bridge and get over it” or “take a teaspoon of cement and harden up”! Time to edge the ego out.
- I was frustrated that I couldn’t do anything to influence the outcome and that repeated requests for feedback might, rather than endear me to the judging panel, finish me off in this particular ‘club’. My perception of choice and autonomy had been diminished, another doll hurled out of the pram.
Based on these reflections I would offer the following guidance to myself and others:-
- Breathe – upon hearing the news you don’t want, aim to stop and take a step back. A good deep belly breath really helps calm down the emotional centre of your brain and increase rational processing
- Don’t get mad, get curious – become the observer and ask yourself “that’s interesting, I wonder what’s in this situation to cause so many of my buttons to be pushed?”
- Influence what you can, then let go – it’s a waste of time and energy to be ‘what iffing’ and getting indignant about the lack of fairness. It happened, you did what you could, move on
- Gain Perspective – when we are stressed or affronted we tend to exaggerate and catastrophise. When I calmed down and looked at this experience rationally, though it did have the potential to accelerate my career in a particular direction, it wasn’t the be all and end all and there are many more roads that lead to Rome
- Ditch the mind-reading – we sometimes get to the point that our gross assumptions about decisions become our reality when, in reality, we don’t have the information or facts and need to let the stories go
- Learn and Grow – ask yourself, “faced with a similar situation again, what would I do differently?” In my case I would understand the rules of the game in advance and choose whether to proceed (if you’re curious, I’d still have gone for it)
When it comes to work and life for you, how do you deal with rejection? How do you move on and ‘get over it’?
I would love to hear your comments and build on the strategies already shared
Ah, that feels better…..