Reframing rejection

Graphic by Elizabeth Hein


I am the antithesis of a jack of all trades. I’ve been cut from sports teams and show casts, rejected from clubs and colleges, ignored after job interviews and ill-advised flirtations — not to mention my defeats in classes and deadlines alike. Truly, there is no one I know who has a more well-rounded sense of failure than I. And, dear reader, I am not nearly as ashamed of it as I know I should be. 

To me, rejection has meant more than the heartbreak, wasted time and effort, frustration and impromptu trips home that I still very much associate with that particular aspect of life. My experiences of rejection have given me the basis to move forward with confidence and — to be frank — apathy. Although I still frequently sweat through every minutiae of my day, I have the hindsight of past experiences to remind myself that failure is, more often than not, redirection and a chance to grow. 

For sophomore sociology-criminology major Cate Pugliese, hearing “no” is usually the start of a new beginning. 

“Being rejected from something just means that something better is coming for you,” Pugliese said. “You weren’t meant to be with that person or with those friends or have that job … something more suited to you will come along.” 

This revelation of what your new opportunity may be is typically a subtle one, but it does not have to be. 

In the case of junior strategic communication major Alexis Worl, her incompatibility with a high school study abroad experience directly contributed to her future success. Four years ago, Worl had to leave her host family in Germany early. She recalls fearing future regret over her decision and meeting with a psychologist, who encouraged her to journal about her experiences. Worl still has that journal and notes that she can easily reframe her experiences in hindsight. 

“It’s kind of nice to look back and realize that I didn’t make the wrong decision,” Worl said. “I don’t like to think of it as a failure; I think of it as a missed opportunity that led to other things.” 

After this trip, Worl recounted her experience with failure in an essay that, along with her countless other qualifications, aided her in receiving the Lilly Endowment Scholarship, granting her a full ride to her dream school. 

On the other hand, sometimes experiencing hardship provides more intangible merits. 

Chris Speckman, Butler instructor and Writing in the Schools director, spoke directly to the resilience it takes to overcome life challenges, something he witnessed firsthand in his mother, a cancer survivor. 

“To me, the takeaway was remaining positive,” Speckman said. “My mom, in spite of those things that she went through, remains one of the most positive people I know, and I definitely inherited that from her. There are days that are failures, and there are days that are successes, but what’s important is that you develop that persistence and that you can look at those failures as something to learn from.” 

Pugliese echoed these sentiments and added that rejection prevents one from feeling entitled to their success. 

“I think I would just walk around expecting yeses from everything,” Pugliese said. “I don’t think that’s how I would want to live.” 

Regardless of these individuals’ optimistic perspectives regarding failure, none of them took the stance that rejection is no longer scary once it is reframed. As aforementioned, I have experienced every kind of failure possible — at least twice — but I can assure you with equal vigor that I still get nervous when I know things may not go my way. 

However, my life is so much better for the things that I have lost and the things that I never had the pleasure of achieving at all. I would not be the student, friend, daughter or woman I am if I had not tried and failed and tried again. 

And, believe it or not, everyone around you is the exact same way. Your peers, like yourself, are a collage of all of the things they’ve loved, all of their accomplishments and all of their failures in equal measure. 

Speckman finds that this perspective makes comparison obsolete. 

“It’s always taught that [life] is linear, forward-moving and upward,” Speckman said. “But in reality, it doesn’t look the same for any two people.” 

So go try — and fail — at everything this big, beautiful world has to offer. I promise you that you will be better for it.


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