I know someone who is just getting over the fact that he didn't get into Harvard. Instead, he had to settle for Yale (OK, he's my husband). That rejection happened long ago, and he's had many successes since. Even though he laughs about it now, some disappointment still lingers. And he isn't alone. All of us can remember a time when the way-cool kids shunned us in the cafeteria, a date stood us up, or someone else got picked for the dodge ball team. Does it matter now? Absolutely not. But our tender hearts often can't let go.
We all struggle with moments of self-doubt that stem from rejection. Society doesn't help. In the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote an essay about the anxiety surrounding college admission for the many young men and women who just received rejection letters. Read the article here. He writes they are "Lamenting that they didn't get in to the college of their dreams and are worrying that it's some grim harbinger of their future, some sweeping judgment of their worth." He intends his piece to be "less as a balm for the rejected than as a reality check for a society gone nuts over the whole overheated process: but why does our society do this to our young people? (For the record, I regret the pressure I put on my children.)
Bruni's point applies every time you give someone else's negative assessment of yourself more weight than you do your own judgement. Negative messages can be relentless. It's easy to criticize, and people fear their compliments will be interpreted as sycophancy, or worse, rejected. We are left with too much critical feedback and not enough positive reinforcement. Then we internalize the criticism, getting caught up in what an SNL spoof calls "Stinkin' Thinkin'."
A job, a success, or a diploma doesn't define you. Do you have a sense of humor? Are you smart? A hard worker? Do you have a vivid imagination? Have you created a family? Are you a generous friend? Internalizing someone's judgement of you can cause more harm than you realize.
Maybe you just need to lighten up a little - if so, read the Groucho Marx joke above and picture the person who rejected you wearing your pj's. Your sense of humor is your greatest weapon against the non-acceptance of others. Have a laugh, let it go, and be grateful you didn't have to put up with the stuffiness of Harvard.