It is en vogue these days to talk about failure, to talk about overcoming, to talk about making mistakes and learning from them. Most of the time this is framed around the idea of working hard, doing your best, and not quite meeting a standard. We talk about it as a part of a journey towards eventual success. We speak of it as though it is a necessity and something that everyone goes through, but we rarely, if ever, speak of failure through the lens of rejection. What about those times when we actually do hit the mark and it’s still not enough? What about those times that you feel like you actually did meet the standard and someone else simply shuts you down or shuts you out? How do you keep moving when others simply want to knock you down?
Professionally, maybe you have felt like you are actually doing all that has been asked of you, but others always want more. Maybe you live your life like a basketball player, seemingly driving to the lane for a wide-open layup only to be caught from behind and have all of your hard work tossed aside. Maybe you give your all to people personally only to be compared to others.
In my own world, I’ll be honest, I have been rejected more times than I care to admit. I have been denied jobs despite having all of the qualifications. I have been denied book deals, been shut out of conferences, have been denied friendships, have had my heartbroken, and have been expected to just keep going. It’s hard. It’s really hard. But, just like all failures, rejections are also a part of life. While most of the failures we often talk about are based on objectively not doing all we are capable of, allowing for an easier lens of reflection, not meeting the subjective lens of others, is often a much harder pill to swallow.
This year I turned 42. The 41st year of my life was a real struggle. Objectively it was probably the most successful year of my life, but by subjective measures, I felt like such a failure. I was seemingly letting everyone down. Instead of trying to meet objective measures of success, subjective opinions seemed to always matter more. I put more value in the opinions of others than what I was able to see for myself. I saw myself as a disappointment. I saw myself chasing validation. I saw myself seeking approval, and often the more I sought it, the farther away it was. Public approval is often a rainbow. When we see it, we celebrate it, but when we try to catch it, we never quite achieve it.
Sometimes approval and validation come out of nowhere…but often so does rejection.
In life, I know we can all find connections that relate to this, an unfair boss, a relationship gone astray, work that is not approved…but I also know that we, as adults, often set kids up to experience the injustice of rejection as well.
Every time we subjectively place value on a child we set him or her up to experience rejection. When we label a valedictorian based on the subjective grades assigned by teachers who value a variety of work ethic behaviors over others, we also reject hundreds of others. When we select students of the week or students of the month based on our subjective opinions of what matters most, we reject others. When we celebrate honor rolls instead of growth goals, we reject progress in the name of what is innate.
We know that reflection is an essential element of achieving success. Reflection is more valuable when it is a result of objective measures of success. If we want to improve as people and want our students to improve as learners, we have to limit rejection in the name of encouraging failure. Take it from me, rejection is no fun. Rejection hurts. Rejection causes self-doubt and feelings of inferiority. Failure, however, can trigger feelings of grit and persistence. Encourage growth by identifying what is needed, free from the opinions of others, then do all you can to achieve success, objectively, and encourage others to do the same.
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