April 22 – Fear, rejection and failure

“The fear of rejection or failure creates inaction.” (John Maxwell)

No one wants to fail at things they do, and even fewer want to suffer rejection. Rejection is a specific kind of failure because it requires that another person actively tell us that what we are trying doesn’t work for them. It is no longer just an objective failure, measured by 1s and 0s, or by a particular set of criteria, it is another human soul saying “no” to us.

Of all the failures I have suffered in life, those that involved rejection hurt the most. Rejection wounds the spirit deeply, and causes a fear that can be difficult to overcome when trying something new. And, as Maxwell says, it is paralyzing. Knowing that the person for whom I am trying to do something may flat out reject the outcome can keep me from ever getting started.

Before I started dating my wife, I was bouncing around college hoping to find someone. There were a couple of gals who were in my classes that I thought were nice. I had broken up with my last girlfriend a few weeks ago and decided it was time to ask someone out. I remember that I had butterflies when I decided it was time to approach one of them. She was in a study lounge where I also went to get work done. We had studied at the same table many times, and she was always warm and kind. I sat at the table and started doing homework. After a half hour or so I looked up and struck up a conversation. She was also taking a mental break, and we talked about the class. After a bit I asked if she would like to go out sometime, maybe a movie. She smile and said “no, thank you”. There may have been other words after that, but I didn’t hear them. I did my best to keep smiling, but soon I was off to class.

After that rejection I went some time without asking anyone else out. She was nice about it, but it still hurt. A few weeks later I found out that the woman who was to become my wife liked me and might be interested in going out. We talked on the phone a few times. One of those times was for over an hour during an April snowstorm. My fear was knotting up in my stomach because I didn’t want to be rejected again. Finally I overcame it and asked her out. She gladly accepted and the rest – as they say – is history.

That first date was 32 years ago, and we have had a fantastic life together. As it turns out that rejection was likely the best thing that ever happened to me, but you could never have convinced me of it that day.

Today I still feel the fear of rejection from time to time. When I am working on an assignment at work, it is frequently not reaching the objective outcomes that scares me, it is the fear that the person who receives the work will not like it. This fear can be crippling as well. It can cause me to sit and wonder when I should be taking action. I have found over the years that generating results that are mostly correct for a first pass with the boss is usually the best way to avoid rejection. Doing this gives plenty of opportunity for edits and changes, before I am completely invested in my particular approach.

This quote puts the fear of rejection and failure in the same light. For me the fear of rejection has far more power than my fear of objective failure. In both cases, though, the fear can have the same effect, it keeps me from trying. Not trying because I am afraid is the ultimate failure.

As I reflect today I am thinking about assignments at work, and projects at home. I am wondering which are those where I am letting fear keep me from trying. None are coming to mind, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I need to be ever vigilant that I am not allowing my fear of rejection or failure to stop me from trying.

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