In the 70s, when I was in grade school, the selection of teams for gym class worked like this: The teacher would pick two Captains. These positions were coveted by some and dreaded by others, but it didn’t matter what we thought about being a Captain because the teacher usually picked the same favorite kids every time. I was happy not to be one of them. The Captains had an onerous responsibility and wielded a power that they were in no way qualified to use. The entire class of students would stand shoulder to shoulder in a long, straight formation. Picture an “army” except we were wearing gym uniforms instead of khakis. The captains were announced by name and they’d leave the line to take their place on either side of the teacher, facing the rest of the class. Then they’d alternate picking a person for their team. Holy shit! I still can’t believe this happened. Some students would shuffle their feet back and forth, their eyes solidly on the ground. Others would stare down the Captains, visibly pleading and begging to be picked next. And there were always a few outliers who would jump up and down with their hand in the air yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” As each person was chosen, they’d leave the formation and join the previously chosen in a new line behind their Captain. The stakes were high. Our athletic and social status was revealed to all and reinforced in our own hearts by the order in which we were chosen. The situation got more dire as the formation dwindled. To be chosen last meant only one thing. And everyone knew it. You weren’t worth a shit. You were either not worth a shit athletically for whatever game we were about to play, or you were not worth a shit socially.
When we’re young, we’re at risk of rejection at school, playing sports, participating in clubs (or wanting to) and even out playing in our neighborhoods. If we happen to have a personality or physical characteristic that’s outside the norm in any way whatsoever, our risk of rejection is much greater. School can be harsh, and kids can be cruel.
In addition to gym class, we got rejected by not getting invited to a birthday party, being the odd man out when the teacher asked us to partner up, not having the acceptable something (clothes/lunch/haircut) or giving an incorrect answer when called upon in class.
When we’re rejected as a child, we carry the impact with us for life because almost always we figured that we were rejected because we weren’t good enough. Rarely can our brains come up with any other possible reason. If the rejection comes from someone we trusted and loved, the consequences are even more severe. If a child is rejected by someone they loved or trusted, the meanings adopted can have disastrous lifelong effects.
A long time ago, rejection was used deliberately as a tool used to entice people to change. The threat of kicking them out of the tribe was used to get people to conform. The chance of survival outside of the tribe was slim which made rejection a very viable means of control. The playgrounds were not much better. Fear of rejection looms at large in our society today. It’s also known as social anxiety. It has evolved very little since the days of the tribe. It’s still wielded as a tried-and-true way of controlling people. Our schools and workplaces are full of it.
If we were rejected in any way as a child, there’s a good chance we internalized a fear of exposing ourselves to this pain as an adult. Unless we move off the grid and become a hermit, we’ll always be exposed and risk rejection. We risk being rejected when we go for a job interview, commit to a relationship, voice our opinion, ask someone for anything, or even when we just be our true selves in the world. The scenarios are endless. To be active participants in our lives, it’s essential that we figure out how to deal with this fear. Every time we put ourselves out there for acceptance, every time we do something in public, or that other people can find out about (which, thanks to the internet and social media, is 100 percent of the time instantly), there’s a possibility of rejection. It’s unavoidable. If we let the fear of rejection control us, we’ll never have a chance at the big rewards.
Rejection has a bad reputation in society. We’ve been conditioned to believe that rejection is undesirable and that rejection hurts, but that’s only one way of looking at it. We could choose instead to think of rejection as an interesting clue, information that points us in a more fulfilling direction. Rejection can happen for a higher purpose. It’s possible that it will save us time and hurt, or an undesirable outcome. Rejection can cut our losses, so to speak. We get to choose how we interpret it. Once we regain our self-worth (and stick with me if you’re not there yet), then rejection can sometimes even be a bit fun, if we let it.