Whether you have social anxiety, panic disorder, depression, or just plain dislike criticism, rejection stings. If you’ve faced rejection recently, you’re in good company. Here are lessons drawn from history from five unforgettable and famous women: The world’s bestselling author, a Nobel Prize Laureate, a first lady, a wildly popular talk show host, and a social advocate who overcame dual disabilities.
JK Rowling. It may seem like the light of good fortune has always shone on the Harry Potter author and one of the richest women in the world, but Rowling struggled through many hard times. In an interview, she shared that at the time she was penning the tale of the bespectacled wizard, she was a recently divorced mom who was “very depressed” and living off of state aid in Great Britain. The first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 book publishers. But then she landed a deal for what would become the bestselling book series of all time.
Lesson: Sometimes rejection means your critics can’t see the talent right in front of their very eyes. Don’t let rejection determine your worth or the worth of your efforts. When so called experts tell you “no,” remember that many studies finds that experts are terrible at making many kinds of predictions.
Malala Yousafzai. What if every day you received threats to stop your work or else you’d lose your life? That’s exactly what 12-year-old Malala endured as she advocated for women’s rights in the Pakistan countryside. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. After her amazing recovery, she continued her advocacy even more vigorously. In 2014, at the age of 17, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lesson: If you have a passion and a purpose, no rejection can loosen your grip or undermine your resolve. Decide what you want to start working on: building your confidence, having more friends, learning a new skill. Whatever it is, find your passion and rejection will wither in your presence.
Eleanor Roosevelt. It’s not easy being the first lady. The public eye scrutinizes your every move, sometimes more than the President’s. America has a history of powerful first ladies and Eleanor Roosevelt exemplifies that spirit. She was an avid social activist who transformed the role of the first lady from domestic keeper to political powerhouse. She has been famously credited with saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Lesson: We often forget that we have the ultimate veto when it comes to rejection. It’s up to us to buy into that rejection or dismiss it. In fact, our ability to choose how we think about negative events is the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most popular psychotherapy today.
Ellen DeGeneres. If you’re under 30, you may not remember the once popular ABC sitcom Ellen. In 1997 Ellen came out. The media storm surrounding her disclosure was largely negative. In a 1997 interview with Oprah, Ellen explained that “It was scary and crazy … ‘Would I still be famous, would they still love me if they knew I was gay?” A year later her show was cancelled.
But not letting criticism or prejudice hold her back, in 2003 she started her wildly popular talk show. And the rest is history.
Lesson: If there’s anything we learn from Ellen, being authentic and loving ourselves helps us to keep persisting in the face of rejection. Research shows that self-esteem helps people continue in the face of rejection.
Helen Keller. In the days before the Americans with Disability Act, Helen Keller overcame unimaginable barriers. Both blind and deaf before the age of 2, she learned to communicate through sign and writing. With the help of her friend, Anne Sullivan, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Radcliffe College, to publish her autobiography, and start the philanthropic work that would take her all over the world – all before the age of 23. In her autobiography, she said “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Lesson: rejection is not just something to be put behind us but something from which we can learn and grow. Today, mental health professionals now recognize the idea of resilience, the ability to overcome serious hardship. Think about your rejections. What can you learn from your setbacks? What does it show about your strengths?
These five women teach us that rejection is often a necessary step to success. Don’t let rejection define your talent, tame your passion, make you feel inferior, hide your true self, or limit your potential.
Camerer, C. F., & Johnson, E. J. (1997). 10 The process-performance paradox in expert judgment: How can experts know so much and predict so badly?. Research on judgment and decision making: Currents, connections, and controversies, 342.
Sommer, K. L., & Baumeister, R. F. (2002). Self-evaluation, persistence, and performance following implicit rejection: The role of trait self-esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 926-938.