The Universal Fear of Rejection

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

I originally had a different post planned, but I had therapy today. I visit my therapist every two to three weeks. I used to go weekly, but my progress has been such that I don’t need to see her regularly. It’s a forty-minute drive up to Lancaster— York’s waiting lists for therapists were six to nine months long when I first started. I don’t mind the drive; it’s one of the longest trips I’ve ever made by myself and it’s fairly peaceful, especially when I go on Thursday mornings.

Anyway, I’ve been talking to my therapist about some stuff, mostly having to do with applying for jobs— but there’s a pattern I’ve noticed with myself, that has a lot to do with my life in general. It begins with a story.

In elementary school, I was a smart cookie. Not smart enough to skip grades, or anything; but smart enough that they gave me IQ tests in third and fifth grade to see if I qualified for the Gifted and Talented program at my school. I took the tests— they were very interesting, puzzles and patterns and things; but the results came in when I was eight (and again when I was ten) and it turned out that I was just barely— barely not qualified enough for G&T. I remember being very cut up about it at the time because I had a couple of friends in G&T and they got to go off and do other things during math classes.

I wasn’t smart enough for G&T— but I did meet the qualifications for them to send me a bunch of summer camp packets. The summer camps were run by the same people who did the G&T program for our county and several counties around, and it was a really nice summer camp program. They were basically week-long art and music classes. I did three camps total over the years: one was a drawing class, one was a sculpture class, and one… was an acting class.

If you know me, then you know I am not an actress. I’m a pretty good liar— which is not the same as acting, but they have a similar underlying principle of pretending to be something you are not. (The difference lies in intent.) I don’t like lying, but I can do it if I feel I have no other way to protect myself. But being in public, with other people, costs me too much energy for me to be anything but myself. If I’m faking too hard, it’s pretty easy to tell.

But I was just finished with sixth grade, heading for seventh grade, and I decided I wanted to do this acting class. What followed that week was a combination of fun activities and utter hell: on the one hand, it was kind of fun to practice the acting techniques they taught us. I learned how to project my voice, a skill that’s served me well over the years.

On the other hand… performing in front of other people. Ick.

We had three short plays we were putting together that week. Most of the other students in the camp auditioned for a few parts. I auditioned for one part— and I nailed the audition. I got the part, and I nailed it in the performance, and I did a fantastic freaking job. Twelve-year-old me was incredibly pleased with myself.

What I didn’t realize, until the directors at the camp congratulated me on it, was that auditioning for only one part was actually kind of ballsy. All the other kids were hedging their losses by auditioning for multiple parts. If they didn’t get the part they wanted, then maybe they would still get something that was okay. I only wanted the one part— I was actually too scared to audition for any of the others. (In case you were wondering, the title of my role was Writer. I am very, very predictable.) For whatever reason, everyone thought this was really cool. “Sarah took a great risk by only auditioning for one part,” I remember them saying. “But it paid off, because she did really well and she got the part. Bravo, Sarah.” And they had everyone clap for me. It was really weird.

Fast-forward six years: I was a high school senior, making decisions about where I wanted to go to college. I had good grades— not a 4.0, but still pretty good. I did a lot of extracurricular music activities; nice. I did a lot of volunteer work through my church: looks great on a college app. I took the SAT: 1200-ish, pretty good. I took the ACT: 31, with a Writing score of 34. I think it was this in particular that probably made some colleges turn and look at me, because I began getting a metric crap-ton of mail from the fifty thousand liberal arts colleges on the East Coast of America— half of which, at least, are in Pennsylvania. I kept a shoebox with all the letters and brochures and sometimes I would go through them and sort of gloat to myself. “Ha ha, I’m smart. Ha ha, everyone wants me to come to their college.” (I was a weird kid and I felt ugly and undesirable throughout high school. Let circa-2010-me have a hot minute, okay?)

I only wanted to go to one school. I’d only wanted to go to one school since I was twelve. I’d visited the campus when my family went out to Utah to visit my grandmother and other family there. I wanted to go to Brigham Young University, and to Brigham Young University I would go. There was simply no question about it.

So I filled out one college application, in October 2010. It went to BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

It was the same thing I’d done when I was twelve, only auditioning for Writer. I only applied to one college— a college known to have fairly high standards for their students. I also sent the application to BYU-I as an afterthought, more than anything. Idaho has a much higher acceptance rate and I got the letter in like, December. I was like, “Okay, cool, but I really want to go to Provo.” There wasn’t anything wrong with Idaho, but Provo was the campus I’d visited. Provo was the campus I loved. Both of my parents had gone there and they’d met there and I’d never, ever considered any other college in my entire life. It had not occurred to me, until December passed, and January and February, that I… might not get in.

March rolled around, and I was beginning to get very antsy; but right after the first weekend in March, when I was in the orchestra for my high school production of Les Miserables, I got my acceptance letter to BYU-Provo.

Once again: I took a huge risk, and it paid off.

This is what I do, when I get to crossroads in my life. Maybe the acting class wasn’t a crossroads as much as it was a milestone— but I made a decision and went with it and winged it and it all turned out really, really well for me. Same with college. I think people apply to nine or ten colleges. Some people apply to way more. I made a decision, I went with it and winged it, and it all turned out really, really well.

I have this problem, however, where I will refuse to do this if I don’t think I’m going to succeed at something.

Case in point: me in my last semester on campus at BYU. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I had no idea whether or not anyone would want to hire me. I hadn’t done a minor or an internship or a study-abroad, which is something that the Humanities department stressed as Very Important For Your Future Endeavors. I was too stressed out about mental illness and money and time to do those things, and I couldn’t drive anyway so there would have been some problems with transportation and things.

So— I panicked. I chose nothing. I chose plugging along at my schoolwork and going to my job at the on-campus bookstore and steadily pretending I was not going to graduate that December, until the repressed emotions and the anxiety and depression and thirty pounds courtesy of Zoloft got to me, and I told my parents, “I can’t do this anymore, please let me come home.”

My lack of decision, in this case, was unproductive and unnecessary. If I had graduated, I would have been able to just go home anyway. I didn’t need to have a job lined up out of the gate. It would have been fine. But I wasn’t sure what to do, so I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make any commitments, I fumbled my way through and winged it again, and this time it just went poorly for everyone involved. My parents wasted money on that semester, and they had to pay for arline tickets for my mom to come out and take care of me. She helped me turn in my resignation for my job, and she helped me talk to people who could erase the semester from my academic record and make sure I didn’t just collapse into a sobbing mess because I was just so entirely nonfunctional at this point.

Well, you know what they say: go big, or go home. Literally.

I don’t know where I learned about risks that were really worth it succeeding if I knew what I wanted, and failing if I didn’t. I don’t know why I thought the way I did, and I’ve decided that I shouldn’t try to justify it to myself. Mental illness turned me into a sad, overweight pile of sweaters and there is no explaining that.

I’m having some of the same hangups about putting in my resume for jobs. So I’m browsing LinkedIn, right? I’m searching for “Writer” jobs in Pennsylvania or Maryland and I’m looking and looking. Everything wants you to have “1-2 years experience in the field” or “a thorough knowledge of the financial/medical industry” or be “PCI compliant” and I don’t know what any of this MEANS.

I read through the other requirements and see: “good writing skills, good communication skills, work ethic, manage projects, work alone and with others, experience with social media, experience with Internet trends” and I’m like BUDDY I WOULD BE PERFECT FOR THIS JOB. Whatever happened to on-the-job training? Why do they assume that a college education is supposed to teach you how to do jobs you don’t yet have? My college education taught me how to analyze books, movies, and TV shows; how to argue a point; and more importantly how to write. These are skills I can apply in the real world. I haven’t seen a single job for which I appear to be completely qualified; thus, I believe they don’t want to hire me, without even applying; thus, I haven’t been submitting my resume and applying to these places; thus, I do not yet have a job. Like my last semester of college, I am panicking and doing nothing. I can assure you that it is neither enjoyable nor productive.

But the point is: I am afraid of rejection, and I was talking to my therapist about it and she assured me that this fear is universal. Everyone is afraid of rejection. I am practically a misanthrope and I am afraid of rejection. (I don’t really hate people. I just get very drained by human company.) However, I’m not alone. You are probably, on some level, also afraid of rejection. Your mother is probably afraid of rejection. So is your father. So are your siblings, your children, your grandparents, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your aunts and uncles and cousins, your friends, your acquaintances, your enemies. Everyone is afraid of rejection.

And yet— other people seem to feel far less fearful than I do. I expressed my confusion about this to my therapist, and she told me that these people are simply better at accepting their fear than I am. They’re afraid of rejection; but there’s nothing they can do not to be afraid of it, so they live anyway. They submit their resumes. They apply to nine or ten colleges. They audition for four parts in their junior high acting summer camp and they maybe don’t get the exact part they want, but they do okay. They don’t try to plan too hard, so they don’t get derailed when their plans do. They accept their fear— and then they act with courage.

I woke up from a strange and vivid dream this morning. I’ve been pondering a lot lately about being alone, about love, about marriage and finding someone to be with. I’ve been thinking about that and I had the weirdest dream that I ought to tell this person I kind of like that I kind of like them. I can’t explain it. I’m afraid of that kind of rejection, too. But I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been praying about general loneliness and love, I’ve been curious and dreaming and trying to find answers— and I think I’m maybe going to do it. I think I might tell him that I like him. My therapist would remind me: what’s the worst that can happen? He says he’s not interested? Well, that means you don’t have to think about him anymore.

Well, she’s got a point. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle rejection that easily— if I am rejected. Don’t aim too low, self.

And besides that, I’m going to send my resume somewhere today. I’ve got a relatively healthy baby blog to serve as a Very Professional Digital Writing Portfolio and I think the name posts will indicate my researchy-style, and everything else can be more personal— plus, starting Sunday, there will be another new series beginning where I tackle an interview-and-report kind of deal which is a different kind of writing. Stay tuned, and all that jazz. So I’ll send in my resume. Just to one place, and that’s all. And tomorrow, I’ll try another.

Accept the fear, and act with courage. And trust me: if I can do it, then you can do it, too.


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.


 

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One thought on “The Universal Fear of Rejection

  1. You are my favourite and I love you and I do not reject you. Go for it. Tell the boy. Send the resume. Do the thing. Rejection hurts, and I hate it, and I do everything I can to avoid it (or don’t do everything, like you do), but we have to practice with little rejections, right?

    Like

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