Why Rejection IS Sometimes Personal (but Not About Your Worth)


“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s their loss. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean anything.

Well-intentioned people have told me these things many times to soften the blow of rejection. And I wanted so badly to believe them, but how could I?

When someone doesn’t want you, it’s hard not to take it personally. They don’t want you. It must mean something about you, right?

When five college theater programs rejected me, when guy after guy ditched me, when countless potential friends avoided me, I thought for sure it meant I wasn’t talented or lovable.

I beat myself up, put myself down, and wished I could be someone better, someone people wouldn’t so quickly write off.

I tried to reframe it, to consider that it really had nothing to do with me. I knew this thought was supposed to comfort me, but something told me this wasn’t right—and it wasn’t my low self-esteem.

Eventually, I was able to look beyond the simplicity of black-and-white thinking and recognize a beautiful grey area.

That gray area was the key to bouncing back from rejection. It was the key to learning about myself. And it was the key to changing how I showed up in the world, and how I experienced it.

In the grey area, rejection sometimes is about us, but not about our worth.

In high school, I had tremendous potential as an actress and singer. I got cast in lead roles plenty of times, received abundant praise for both my dramatic chops and my comedic timing, and represented my school choir at a national competition.

I had talent; I know this now. Still, with the benefit of hindsight, I also know that my college rejections did mean something about me.

I didn’t take care of myself back then. My throat was constantly hoarse due to aggressive bulimia. And I was terrified of judgment, which made it difficult to be present and throw myself into my monologues.

But none of those things meant I was untalented or unworthy. They meant I needed to be kinder to myself, to strengthen my confidence, and to grow as a person and performer.

As a teen and in my early twenties, I had a lot to give in relationships. I was compassionate, good-hearted, and loyal to those I cared about.

I was lovable; I know this now. Still, with the benefit of hindsight, I also know that my inability to sustain relationships and friendships did mean something about me.

I frequently looked to others to fill gaps in my self-esteem. I obsessed about myself while blinding myself to their needs. And I was clingy, insecure, and unwilling to heal the pain that caused me to focus all my attention on winning their approval.

But none of these things meant I was unworthy of love. They meant I’d experienced tremendous pain and I needed to heal and learn to love myself before I could truly love or be loved by others.

Some rejections really weren’t about me—like when a casting director was looking for someone older.

Most times, there was a lesson for me in the rejection, some area where I could learn and improve. But the lesson never had to do with my worth as a person—only about my potential for growth.

This isn’t a mindset I adopted quickly or easily. 

For years, I hated myself when I failed or it seemed people didn’t want me. Even the tiniest rejections would push me down to a dark, dirty place of “There’s something wrong with me.”

And it was awfully tempting to stay there. In a way, it felt safe. It was a place where I could hang out without getting shut out.

In accepting my inadequacy, I was free to shut down and avoid future rejections. What was the point of trying when I knew I was the problem, and there was nothing I could do about it?

If I plain and simply wasn’t good enough—if I was intrinsically unworthy of all the things I wanted—then I could stop putting myself in a position to have this disheartening truth confirmed.

Or, perhaps even more depressing, I could lower the bar on what I wanted so that it aligned with what I believed I deserved. I could seek out jobs that dissatisfied me, men who looked down on me, and friends who devalued me.

Because that’s what happens when you conclude that you’re unworthy and undeserving—you find people and situations that confirm it.

Like I did in my mid-twenties, when I casually dated a man who said I was lucky he spent time with me because I wasn’t really a great catch (while torturing myself by living in NYC but not auditioning because I thought I wasn’t good enough).

I know now that I am good enough. I deserve so much more than I once settled for, despite all the rejections I received. And I have a light I can share with the world, if I choose to kindle it instead of stifling it.

In a way, I’m grateful for those rejections. They enabled me to identify areas for growth, to develop confidence while making progress in those areas, and to tame the cruel, critical voice inside that hurts far more than anyone else’s rejection.

We all have a voice like this, and it has a knack for getting louder right when we need compassion the most.

When we’ve failed to achieve something we wanted, it likes to obsess over all the reasons we probably shouldn’t have put ourselves out there.

Really, it’s trying to keep us safe by discouraging us from putting ourselves in a position to be hurt again. Just like our friends are trying to protect us from pain by telling us it really isn’t about us.

But safe isn’t a place where we learn or grow. It’s not the key to feeling alive, engaged, challenged, or proud of the way we’re showing up in the world.

To feel those things we have to first tell ourselves we’re worthy of those feelings—no matter how much room we have for growth.

We have to tell ourselves that we can achieve more than we think, but we are so much more than what we achieve.

We have to live in that grey area where failures and rejections provide information, but not confirmation that we’re not good enough.

I’m not always open to that information. On days when I’m feeling down on myself, it’s tempting to interpret “no” as “no, you don’t matter.”

Even those days are opportunities, because I get to practice telling myself, “Yes, you do. Now prove it. Keep learning. Keep growing. And keep showing up, because you have so much more to give.”

Rejection image via Shutterstock

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Nicky

    Wow…this is SO profound. I have felt the same way but could not have said it more beautifully. What a relief to know that the reactions you are getting from life are in your control but do not define you. Amazing. Thank you

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “I know now that I am good enough. I deserve so much more than I once settled for, despite all the rejections I received. And I have a light I can share with the world, if I choose to kindle it instead of stifling it.” Indeed you do, Didi, and you are… 🙂

  • Cate Terwilliger

    An outstanding post: insightful, gentle and articulate. It explains our organic experience of rejection as, in fact, painfully personal — no matter how we deny it — while encouraging us not to throw out the baby (our worthy and worthwhile selves) with that bathwater. Well done!

  • Lori, this post so hits home for me. When we are young, it’s so easy to believe that rejection really is about our worth. If we take this belief into the world with us even as we get older, it affects our ability to allow our lights to shine. We all have so much to share with the world, and believing we are unworthy serves no one, especially ourselves. Thanks for reminding us that we all have worth, and by knowing this ourselves, we can help others to know it too.

  • You’re most welcome, Nicky! This realization was huge for me. A game changer, for sure!

  • Thank you so much, Jeevan. =)

  • Thanks Cate!

  • You’re most welcome! This can be such a tough lesson to learn – perhaps because our beliefs about our worth can be so deeply ingrained. I know it was hard for me. But you’re absolutely right – believing we’re unworthy serves no one. And it would benefit everyone if we all adopted a growth mindset so we could continually show up and share our light.

  • Helen

    Wow what a beautiful piece so wonderfully put. The grey area explains so well that place where we need to grow and learn and develop so that we can become all the wonderful things we already are but don’t yet have the awareness or capacity to access them. I have struggled with rejection for years and have only in the last few years come to the realisation that I need to love myself more and use rejection as a tool, not as a confirmation of “I’m not good enough”. And like you, even though ive done so much work to get to a place where I’m ok with myself most of the time, I still feel the default ” I’m not good enough” start to rise within whenever I’m met with rejection! So this will be my go to article from now on when I feel like that as I love how you describe it in such a beautiful way. This article will help so many people, thank you for sharing your insight x

  • Ana

    Very familiar feeling and you said it best :”We have to live in that grey area where failures and rejections provide information, but not confirmation that we’re not good enough.” For me the epiphany was in realizing that I actually believed the others’ opinion of me. The hurt and the pain came from identifying with whatever the person rejecting me thought of me or has stated as a reason for leaving. Once I understood this it was as if a thousand tones had lifted from my shoulders,because then I knew: ,they didn’t know me,that’s not me-it’s merely their view on things and has nothing to do with me! Once I let go of this attachment I had the information I needed from which to grow and evolve and information I can handle.
    Thank you

  • Sherman Smith

    Hey Lori,

    There’s going to be a lot of people who’s going to really resonate with this. When it all comes down to it it’s all about knowing the fact that we are worthy and being able to align ourselved with this way of thinking no matter what rejections we get. This is what brings us true balance.

    Thanks for the share Lori ! Have a good one!

  • Em

    Thank you.

  • You’re welcome. =)

  • Thanks so much, Sherman. You have a good one too! =)

  • Very powerful, Ana! It can be so difficult sometimes to separate someone else’s perception from reality. But as you pointed out, it’s liberating to realize other people’s views don’t have to define us.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Nobody enjoys being rejected, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. Rejection shouldn’t take a swipe at your pride. Just because someone isn’t comfortable with your presence, they’re not obligated to be a part of your life.

    Fifteen years ago, my ex-best friend from high school wrote the most cruel letter to me. She described how much of an embarrassment I was towards her. According to her so-called “standards,” I failed to maintain an image regarding fashion, make-up and hair. I couldn’t help but feel hurt, betrayed and disappointed. Several of my classmates had to intervene when I was on the verge of getting physical with her. All she did was shed those crocodile tears, like a boo-boo the fool. Once I calmed down, I confronted her. The apology had fallen on deaf ears, and I didn’t see the point on forgiveness. There was no need for me to continue the friendship. I realized I have no reason to be ashamed, just because I fell below someone else’s standards of image. To this day, I haven’t forgiven my ex-best friend. We came from two different worlds, and I’m okay with not wanting to be around her.

    It took me a long time to know my self-worth, after all of the damage. I know the true meaning of friendship, and don’t judge those that have a different wardrobe. Everyone has their own unique style.

    Thank you, Lori, for sharing your experience.

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  • This is very insightful! I can totally relate. I think one of the most frustrating part of this and all personal transformation is when people tell you things like you noted “its not about you…it’s about them and it’s their loss” and you try to think those things and it doesn’t work. Thanks for giving a different way to look at it when being ‘told’ what to think doesn’t work.

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  • lv2terp

    Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable always! 🙂 Wonderful message of strength and courage to work through inner struggle! 🙂

  • Thanks so much – and you’re most welcome!

  • Those were my thoughts exactly! It didn’t seem true to me that none of it was about me. Thanks for commenting – and you’re most welcome!

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  • Me.2

    Dear Lori, This is an amazing post. I can’t find the right word in my vocabulary to describe this. Suffice to say it has connected with my very being, like I am sure it has with others. Thanks

  • Thanks so much for the kind words, and you’re welcome! =)

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  • Aja Kweliona

    I know this is an older post, but I just read it and had a wonderful ah-ha moment! Thank you for writing this!

  • That’s wonderful! You’re most welcome. =)

  • Shani

    Thank you for this article. It definitely is helping me get out of self pity. Thank you for being brave and honest. I hope this And many other pieces bring you love and blessing.

  • You’re most welcome, and thank you so much. =)

  • Bryanne Weaver Smith

    I would rather be pushed off a cliff while being shot at by a firing squad than be rejected. I don’t care if it isn’t about me. It hurts and creates a physical pain in me that is pure agony. So, I avoid situations where I know the rejection will really hurt. I know I’m not emotionally healthy enough to take rejection at this point in my life, and there is no shame in that. I’m working on my emotional health, with the understanding that I may never be emotionally healthy enough to take rejection and do something constructive with it.

  • I understand, Bryanne. You’re absolutely right – there’s no shame in that. I’m glad to hear you’re working on your emotional health. While nothing’s a guarantee, anything is possible. =)

  • Marie

    It’s comforting to know our experiences are seldom unique and we can learn from each other. I knew the grey was there somewhere but could not begin to see it until I read this. Thank you for articulating your lessons and growth in a way that is relatable.

  • You’re most welcome. I’m glad this helped. 🙂