Understanding This Strange Truth About Rejection Lessens Its Sting

I am a complete failure when it comes to softball.

As a kid, whenever I was forced into playing, I moved my (inevitable) outfielder position to inside the tree line that surrounded the field. I figured this way I was safe from being hit from any rocketed balls and my inability to cover the territory would be obvious to the other outfielders so that they could strategize how to adjust for my ineptitude.

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And playing defense was actually my stronger suit. There were a few ground balls that I was able to deliver to a base. Always too late. But better late than never, right?

At bat, I have never ever even hit the ball. No balls. No fouls. No contact.

Like I said, a complete and utter failure.

And that never bothered me. Unlike academics, softball was never something I cared about or wanted to be good at. It just wasn’t for me and that was okay.

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Except when it meant I was rejected.

Every time the team-picking commenced, I felt discarded as my name was inevitably the last one spoken. I didn’t want my name called yet at the same time, the fact that the team didn’t want to call my name had an edge to it.

Because here’s the strange truth about rejection – It stings even when we’re turned down for something we don’t want.

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Think about that for a moment. Part of the pain of rejection comes from a general desire to be desired and a need to be the one to control the outcome.

I don’t really want it but I want to be the one to make the decision not to have it.

Just because rejection hurts, does not mean that you’re being turned away from something you wanted. We confuse that sometimes, linking the pain to the loss and assuming that the loss is the sole cause of the pain.

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My classmates were thinking rationally when picking teams, calling names based upon a mutually beneficial relationship. When I was feeling rejected, I was responding emotionally, allowing my feelings to assign more importance to the rebuffing than it deserved.

Sometimes rejection is simply a sign that it wasn’t the right fit. And the other person has reached that awareness before you.

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That’s how I now see the end of my first marriage. It was actually something that was no longer good for either one of us. I just didn’t know it yet.

The rejection hurt like hell (especially with the manner that it was delivered – like a baseball torpedoed to the heart), but it was ultimately a gift.

“You’ll be happier,” he typed in the letter that was left behind, “You’ll bounce back and live a happier and more honest life than I could ever give you.”

And ultimately, he was right. Not so much about the bouncing – that was more of a long, hard climb up a muddy slope – but about the happier.

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Awakening From Hibernation

In some areas, it’s not quite spring but we are well over winter. The trees and flowers are just beginning to stir. The first signs of the cherry blossoms have appeared. The daffodils are letting their yellow undercoats peek out at the tepid sun. Tree branches are rounded with the soft buds of the new leaves. The stirrings are not limited to the plants. Joggers are beginning to fill the trails, especially on those days between cold and rain fronts. The squirrels are out in force, digging up the acorns they buried months ago. The birds have lifted their self-imposed ban on song and their chirps and warbles fill the mornings once again.

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It’s natural to hibernate when the world outside becomes too harsh to bear. It’s instinctive to curl up and tuck in, settling into a protective stasis. We do it annually to some extent as we follow the natural rhythms of shorter days and colder nights. We tend to narrow our worlds in the winter, paring back and slowing down. It is a time of restoration.

That contraction is countered by the expansion that occurs each spring, as we expand our reach along with the increasing hours in a day. It’s an instinctive cycle, an inhalation and exhalation on a broad scale. We are not unlike the flowers in our balance of growth and rest.

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And, just like the blossoms, we can have our rhythm disturbed. A sudden late freeze will send the plants into shock, causing them to die back and halt their growth until they feel like it’s safe to peek their petals out again. A sudden shock can just as easily cause us to slow and even stop. Parts of us can die, turning withered and black. It can lead to a period of hibernation as the body and mind turn inward. The body slows, the appetite decreases and the brain becomes sluggish.

It’s a natural response to a sudden freeze where the world becomes inhospitable and fierce. Don’t try to resist the natural cycles – you’ll lose. Be with it; ride it out. Curl up and hide but don’t forget to look outside for the first signs of spring and allow yourself to spread and grow as the sun’s first warmth touches you again.

The flowers never let the risk of a late freeze keep them from showing their beauty. Why should you?

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Hope is a Passive Verb

I experienced a moment of synchronicity this past weekend – just as I was typing, “I hope the Ravens win,” a Tweet showed up on my feed about the limitations of the word “hope.” Patrick Brady (@MrMindMiracle) compares “hope” to the word “try,” pointing out the inherent weakness implied by both.

The thought made me pause. I rolled the idea around in my mind for the next few plays (where, I might add, my hope of the Ravens doing well was coming to fruition). “Hope” is a word I frequently use, both in my words and my writing. There are times when hope can be dangerous (as in holding onto the idea that an expired relationship may yet again find footing) and there are times when hope is essential (such as when it keeps us from drowning in despair).

And it’s true, that much like “try,” “hope” is passive. It paints a picture of wishing on a thing and then sitting back waiting for it to occur. And in both cases, action must be paired with intent for anything to happen. Well, other than the Ravens winning. Luckily, they don’t require anything from me to get into the playoffs:)

Hope is an important emotion. It gives us a whisper of possibility when everything feels impossible. It provides the inspiration to take the next breath when we feel as though our world is imploding. It gives permission to trust that despair isn’t permanent and that you can have a better tomorrow.

Hope gives the motivation to keep going even when you can’t yet see the light.

But hope is not enough.

You have to act.

I have hope and I’m not afraid to use it.

The discussion reminded me of a phrase I heard often during my divorce:

Everything happens for a reason.

Whenever that phrase was delivered by some well-meaning person, I would nod and mutter, “yes,” while silently screaming inside. You see, that phrase to me seemed passive. It implied that I should sit back and wait and let the reason for the hell I was enduring be revealed.

And passively waiting was the last thing I wanted to do. My life was actively stolen from me. And I was actively going to make it better.

And I didn’t just hope I could laugh, trust and love again.

I didn’t just hope that one day I could be grateful for my divorce and even for my ex.

I didn’t just hope I could bring purpose to the pain and create good from so much bad.

I knew I could.

And then I made it happen.

Baby step by baby step.

Replace “hope” and “try” with “believe” and “will.”

Don’t just chase your dreams,

Create your dreams.

Make your hope an active verb.

Portage

I’ve spent a good amount of time on rivers. As a kid growing up in South Texas, tubing down the Frio or Guadalupe rivers was an essential part of every summer. I went whitewater rafting with friends and continued the tradition with my dad out West. When I moved to Georgia, I again spent time on the river, especially now with the Chattahoochee just down the road.

Rivers teach us about change. Unlike trails on land that stay static for months or even years on end, rivers swell and retreat seemingly with a mind of their own. Smooth waters are replaced with raging froth as boulders or logs divert the flow. Formerly deep wells become shallow graves lined with smooth stone when rainfall fails to meet the river’s demands. No matter how many times you have traveled those waters, they can still catch you by surprise.

A lesson I learned one summer rafting with a friend and her family on a river north of San Antonio. It was a stretch I had done before. In fact, I had even rafted it with her family on the previous summer. But this year was different. The usual drought had been relieved by drenching rains the week before and the river was full. Very full.

For the first part of the trip, we welcomed the swollen waters. You see, rafting (or even tubing) in Texas is usually broken up with intervals of walking the flotation device for a spell when the river becomes too shallow to support its draft. We used to joke about it being a sort of Texas portage. A normal portage is performed when the waters are too treacherous to approach and the craft is carried over land. In a Texas portage, the flotation device is simply carried over the small trickle of water while carefully stepping around the smooth stones that line the river bed until the water is again deep enough to support a craft.

So on this particular day on the river, we were simply happy that no Texas portages (portagii?) were necessary; the river was more than capable of carrying the raft with my friend and I, her parents and her brother. We were laughing and joking, eating soggy Pringles and drinking warm Cokes when we started to hear the noise. It started out as a dull roar, almost like bad reception on the car radio. But soon the noise was unmistakable. Water. Whitewater.

The recent rains had turned an upcoming portion of the river into a raging torment, made even more unpredictable by the damns created by debris moving down the river. Throwing the Pringles down, we scooped up the inadequate paddles and frantically rowed the boat ashore, narrowly escaping the tumultuous waters and our increasing panic. Where we carried the raft through the brush and bramble of the shore until we could safely place it back onto the water where we continued the remainder of the trip without incident.

That was my first real portage.

It wouldn’t be my last.

 

Our success on a challenge is greatly influenced by our view of the trial. If we see every section of impassable whitewater as an insurmountable obstacle, we will either remain stuck above the falls or find ourselves dashed on the rocks below.

But if we realize that the perceived obstacle is simply a detour in our plans, we will gather up the necessities and portage until it is safe.

Like the river, our lives often change without warning, causing us to leave the flow and construct a new path. Portage is not a sign of failure; it is a sign of acceptance and faith in the journey.

Sometimes you have to leave where you are to get where you are supposed to be.