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Aiming to fail

Do you remember the sting of your first rejection? The boy at the party who refused to kiss you even though the spinning bottle clearly landed on him. That time you didn’t get picked for the lead role in the school play or as goal keeper in the netball team. The birthday party it seemed everyone on the planet got an invitation to except you.

I once left an adoring note with my phone number and an almost criminal number of ink kisses on it in the letterbox of a boy in my street who’d answered the door when I was selling Freddo Frogs for charity. I’m still waiting for his call.

Ouch. Rejection hurts. There’s no doubt about it. It can feel like a punch to the gut. A slap. A nasty sting. There’s often so much of it in our childhoods that it’s no wonder most of us grown up and learn to try and avoid it. And we come up with some pretty good excuses to dodge it, too.

We swipe left on the outrageously hot guy because he’s probably out of our league. We don’t apply for that internal role because everyone will know when we don’t get it. We never start that small business because someone already makes plaster moulds of beach shells anyway.

But maybe we’re thinking about rejection the wrong way. I mean, those 1980s cartoon Raggy Dolls were thrown into a factory’s rejection bin but they didn’t seem too down about it.

In an essay by creative nonfiction writer Kim Liao a few years ago, she quotes an unnamed but much-published writer friend who, upon being asked the secret of her success, said this: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.” 

Rejection goals. That’s interesting. Definitely not something my Year 12 careers counsellor taught me.

So, okay. Kim Liao’s friend obviously wasn’t talking about dates and job positions (even though there’s definitely something to be said for gaining lots of ‘interview experience’). But the idea of rethinking the concept of rejection and turning it into something more positive, something we can learn from, is a powerful one.

What if we reframed rejection as an achievement for putting ourselves out there, rather than a failure? Could this give us the courage to aim for loftier targets? To get more rejections? And maybe, therefore, more acceptances?

Because, the truth is, the real cost of rejection isn’t hearing ‘no’. It’s missing opportunities to try again because the original rejection is still echoing in your head. It’s chucking out the love note to the other cute boy down the street because he probably won’t call either. It’s not trying out for X-Factor because you didn’t get in last year. It’s avoiding suggesting something in that work meeting because your last idea was a flop.

But surely being rejected is better than missing out on the chance to succeed in the first place, right? Right.

See you in the rejection bin, Raggy Doll!