Service of Rejection

October 27th, 2011

Categories: Failure, Rejection

A great friend asked me a question that someone inquired of her: “How is it that you remember the slights and putdowns forever and never the compliments?”

And while I agree that you can wear yourself out, feel and act whipped if you dwell on negative input, facing and fixing the cause of a verbal slap or rejection, whether true or unwarranted, is like practicing to improve your tennis backhand: It can’t hurt and you may become remarkable.

Peggy Payne pointed to three others, in addition to herself, whose careers benefited by fighting negative evaluations, expectations or an F grade in “How Insults Spur Success.” I have an issue with the word “insult” in her case. Being passed over by a program for brilliant teens isn’t insulting, it’s a rejection. This is what happened to Payne 46 years ago. She’s now an accomplished, prize-winning author. But whatever you call it, Payne observed:  “There’s nothing like a little ‘I’ll show ’em’ to incite ambition. Many people cherish their motivational insults.”

Payne also wrote about a woman whose test revealed she was too anxious to succeed at grad school. She not only graduated, she’s currently a psychologist. Then there was a philosophy professor who got an F in his first philosophy course and a designer and producer of books who was crushed when her first grade teacher said: “You are nothing like your brother. He loved to read and draw.”

If you finish Payne’s New York Times article you’ll learn that she wrote it to report that the legislature has cut off the program that rejected her–the Governor’s School of North Carolina–and that alumni are raising funds to keep it alive. Her support is an example of her gratitude to the program; the good it does and what not attending has done for her.

You may have been rejected or insulted and therefore driven to action by a relative, teacher, friend, fellow student, boss, acquaintance or stranger; rejected by a university, potential employer or scholarship program or shocked into high gear by a bad grade or test score. And now look at you! You are recognized and/or you excel thanks to your drive to discredit the naysayer. Can you point to such examples?

9 Responses to “Service of Rejection”

  1. Hester Craddock Said:

    First off, I agree with you that there is a big diference between an insult and rejection.

    If you tell me that the other applicant for a job, one of the requirements for which was fluency in French, spoke better French than I do, then I may be rejected but I’m not insulted. My French is not that good and I know it.

    Rejection is rejection and is unpleasant. I don’t think it does anything to benefit anyone except a vendor of hemlock leaves. NY Times, or no, I cannot see it motivating anyone. However, a skilled rejector who knows how to deliver the message artfully, can deliver a positive message.

    If the man or woman doing the rejecting truthfully enumerates your good points, you believe him or her when he or she tells you, when you have a BA, that 247 of the applicants for a position had MBAs and were not selected. You may still be unemployed, but you are in good company.

    You feel beter about yourself and are more likely to go on trying to find a job.

  2. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    Rejection has been a spur on more than one occasion, in my career.

    When I was writing children’s books, a nonfiction manuscript was rejected outright because its tone did not parallel that of other such books in a particular series. I gnashed my teeth and went to work, completely rewriting the book…and finally got the publisher to agree to acquire it. That led to a subsequent assignment as well.

    Recent, a manuscript of mine was rejected by a publisher; an editor wrote a cordial note to my then-agent. In it she said something to the effect that parts of the book seemed “forced.” That word stuck with me for several days, until one morning it dawned on me exactly what she meant. I reread certain parts of the ms. and agreed immediately…and also immediately went to work.

    Alas, fixing the problem involved more than just tinkering. I made a great many changes throughout the ms.—thank God for computers and the ability to rewrite and insert revisions without retyping whole sections. I resubmitted the book, along with an explanatory letter. No response yet, but even if that editor says no again, I still feel I’ve improved the narrative as a result of her comments.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My Dad had a saying, “It’s better to be the last one accepted than the first one refused,” which came from his student days in France where tests were marked on the curve. The reason for rejection in that case is obvious if frustrating.

    I’ve had great interviews or meetings and not gotten the job or account. I try just as hard each time. In this economy, lots of people have plenty of practice in this regard as so often what starts out to be a position or a project dissolves like cotton candy in a storm and nobody is chosen.

    The trick is to keep up one’s spirits while working on the reasons you didn’t get a job or account. If it’s because you don’t speak a language very well or you don’t have an MBA, you have to decide if it’s worth it to address these issues if you’re knocking on doors where these things count. It’s most discouraging when the person who gets the job or project is a friend of the boss and the other candidates were brought in simply to fulfill an HR requirement.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What gets me about your first example is that you may just have had an approach that would have made for a fabulous nonfiction children’s book and the editor didn’t have the energy or vision to see that you were taking the series in a great direction.

    As for the second, I know how great editing can be though I’ve never attempted to write a book. I find that in many cases, nonprofessional writers are most sensitive when edited, especially when they think they are great writers.

    I love writing goofy headlines on standard press releases. Sometimes my client doesn’t get the play on words or reference. Ten times out of 10, I rush to change it without hesitation as I know that zillions of others will scratch their heads as well. You can’t fall in love with your words if you are hired to write them.

  5. Anonymous Said:

    Not sure if this counts as rejection but I once worked with a publisher on one of my books who had grossly over-edited my perfectly serviceable ms. Now I know my sentences can be a bit long. They may need a bit of concentration, – what use is the work if the reader doesn’t concentrate when reading it? The challenge is to make the sentence amusing or interesting enough to make the reader WANT to understand it. But that editor had elided numerous of my possibly slightly too-long sentences into one gigantic one with no less than 7 (SEVEN!) commas in it.

    I remember when I went into the publisher’s office to go over the editor’s MS: The editor must have been a ‘girl-friend’ of the owner of the company and didn’t dare show up. I enjoyed a screaming match, and while going through instances like this, challenged the publisher to read out loud the seven-comma sentence. Needless to say he couldn’t and refused to read what he was representing as his own sentence.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Great story, Anonymous!

    You rejected the editor’s fix as well you should have. Here’s hoping she learned from it and is now a better editor [and maybe ex girlfriend].

    But you didn’t say whether all seven commas stayed in or whether you won the argument! I’d hate to have the person who made the marathon sentence write speeches for me…I’d turn blue or red and faint trying to get through a point!

    I like to write speeches and always try them out before sending them to a client just so that doesn’t happen, especially if he/she is the type that doesn’t practice and could easily be blindsided by a runaway, lengthy, seven-comma point!

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Too much emphasis is placed on being rejected. Most woes may not have taken place had one learned to reject foolish ideas and nostrums being placed on us by well meaning and not so well meaning friends and relatives.

    Relatives or false friends who play the rejection game are basically advertising their inferiority and that of those who play along with them. They are not even worth this comment.

    In addition, the term “rejected” is often misused. One is not necessarily “rejected” because one doesn’t get a job, get a manuscript published, or get accepted by a school Consideration must be given to the hiring agent, editor or administrator, and the number of open spots available. It’s a matter of not getting in, and feeling “rejected” is inaccurate, foolish and counterproductive.

    Best thing to remember is to enjoy life, and being rejected has no place in it. It’s a sure slap in the face of those who have deliberately insulted you, and there’s no way for them to pay back.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I endorse the concept that if someone has tried to insult or reject you and you are/appear cheerful and to be enjoying life, that’s the best response. It puts them in the position of playing tennis by themselves, with no backboard, only air that won’t return the nasty or any other ball.

    The trick is to be able to do it.

    I admit, however, to having used rejection to sharpen skills and I don’t regret a moment of the effort.

  9. David Reich Said:

    Whether an insult or a rejection, it’s a negative experience. I just saw a report that says people are more likely to talk or write about a negative experience than a positive one: we tend to tell 9 people about a positive experience and tell 13 about something that was negative. Retailers and other businesses should take heed.

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