Rejection or Redirection

Through academics and romance, rejection is rampant throughout our lives; it’s up to us to determine whether we allow it to define our success and future.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Stefanie Chen

As I frantically reloaded Talos on the train, hoping that the brief period of signal before the train left the station would allow for a saving grace, only one thought ran through my mind: “Please have AP Gov & Macro as history course options.” Based on the title of this article, it’s safe to assume that I was not accepted. Throughout my time at Stuyvesant, there have been countless times when anxiety overtook my senses as I awaited a decision, whether it be a text indicating reciprocated romantic feelings, an email notifying me of my application status, or Depop alerting me that someone else has purchased the item saved in my cart. Rejection is a normal and unavoidable element of life, despite the sadness and grief it brings each time. In a society so emotionally dependent on acceptance, it’s important to try and embrace rejection, too, for the sake of our mental well-being.

As Stuyvesant teachers hand back tests, they constantly remind students to remain optimistic, saying, “It’s just a number.” These numbers can raise or drop averages, improve or worsen the mood of a student for that day, and anger or please a strict parent. While it is true that grades are just numbers, it isn’t this simple to many students: excessive emphasis on grades often lead to intense self-criticism. Stuyvesant students don’t always manage rejection in healthy ways, hence why it can be common to witness someone crying in the hallway while holding an exam paper before they brush their tears aside and head to their next class with a face void of emotion. Students should be able to look at their grades and eventually move on without beating themselves up and losing hope about the subject altogether. The intense pressure placed on students by themselves and their environment contributes to their constant pursuit of success, which is understandable since no one actively seeks to be rejected. But if one rejection can make a student burst into tears, the rest of life’s hardships will have even worse tolls. With the competitive nature of Stuyvesant and the rest of the world, acknowledging that one rejection doesn’t define an individual’s future can be the motivation to wake up the next morning and welcome life’s new opportunities. 

Especially as teenagers enter talking stages and relationships, students commonly encounter rejection when they inevitably experience the moment of unreciprocated feelings. When this moment inevitably arrives, teenagers tend to belittle themselves and think, “Is this situation my fault?” The reflections can spiral even further, resulting in beliefs that they are unlovable and will never find someone else. Self-criticism occurs once again as individuals immediately resort to blaming themselves for a situation that can be out of their control. For circumstances that they  believe they have control over, such as an exam, not performing up to their standards can result in further alarming consequences as students become hopeless and doubt any possibilities of success in the future. Whether a rejection is under an individual’s control or not, it shouldn’t lead to intense self-deprecation and definitely doesn’t define an individual’s capability to be loved. Hollywood has convinced us that romance is meant to have a happy ending where the girl lovingly accepts the guy’s proposal as they drive off into the sunset. Though the reality isn’t this favorable, it’s what makes life worth living; there are over eight billion people in the world, one of whom could be a future lover. Utilizing that rejection to improve yourself and maintain motivation should be the result of a turndown, not beating yourself up mentally over what could’ve been.

As difficult as it may be, embracing rejection can allow one to confront negative feelings and have a humbling experience. Rejection helps ground us and remind us that there are fields for self-improvement, which, in turn, boosts motivation. According to a study done by the Rotterdam School of Management, people whose ideas were initially rejected in an online suggestion box were more likely to submit another idea within the next four years. Rejection gives people an idea of what they can refine for the next opportunity, whether it be a math test or the way they treat a new friend. The same can be said for confronting reality. As a defense mechanism, some individuals are afraid to ever speak to a person again after experiencing rejection. However, recognizing that rejection—with the right mindset—can be a stepping stone to allow individuals to overcome their emotions and be open-minded about their past and future relationships. Rejection is one of the hardest mental obstacles to overcome, and it takes many years before individuals can recognize its importance. 

Despite everything positive I’ve written about rejection,  it will always be a scary event that everyone tries to avoid. Part of this can be attributed to society’s emphasis on success and extremes, and the other part is just how humans’ brains work: we’re designed to experience rejection in the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Emotions are impossible to control, which is why we should let feelings run their course instead of trying to put up a facade that will only hurt us further. What we can do, however, is attempt to treat ourselves kinder and not let one instance of rejection define our self-worth. After all, we are what we make of ourselves.