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Failure and rejection

Recently my child asked whether I thought he should apply for something that he wanted – a role at school. I said yes.

Then he asked whether he should apply for a range of things, some of which he didn’t really want, in case he didn’t get picked for the role he really wanted?

No, I said. Apply for the thing that you want, because then you’re focused on that, which gives you more chance of getting it. Always put Plan A before Plan B, because if you fail, then at least people know what you want, rather than giving you something that you don’t want and imagining that you’re happy.  People can only help you if they know what you want.

Meanwhile, I saw something that I wanted.

‘Are you going to apply for it?’ asked my son.

‘Um, ummmmmbbbb…’ I said. Because the thing that I want is out of reach; I’m very unlikely to be successful and, frankly, I’m not in the mood to be rejected right now. But OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t say no.

So I applied. I know already that it’s not going to go well, but it’s a chance to show my sons that failure is usually harmless. What will happen? A bunch of people will see my application, roll their eyes, and turf it into the bin. (Except, they’ll have to process it… cringe…) Someone will have to let me know that it’s been rejected – and then we can all celebrate someone else’s appointment (the conclusion is a bit foregone). 

Still there are times when it’s a good idea to throw yourself at something, whether it’s hopeless or not. Partly because it’s never 100% hopeless, but mostly because how can we teach our children to be resilient if we ourselves collapse at the thought of being turned down?

Even so, waiting for rejection is about as much fun as an injection. I’m not scared of swimming in winter or running up hills, but rejection makes me want to pull my jumper right up over my head, and hide inside my own bubble until everyone has gone away. But of course, that’s not practical. In reality, I’ll have to just face the big, wet fish-slap when it comes.

But… rejection does have one saving grace.

More often than not, if you ignore rejection, it will go away. 

Time passes, and the people who rejected you are unlikely to chase you into the future. Quite often you can literally shut your eyes, count to ten, and it’s over.

And even though I hate courting rejection, I’d do it again. I applied for something that I wanted but stand almost no chance of getting — but yey for giving myself a tiny chance! Not applying would, in some way, have felt like a rejection of self. At least I didn’t do THAT. And I encouraged my child to take his own chances: he succeeded, and came away beaming with the role that he wanted. (One of those lovely “gold dust” moments for both of us.)

While he’s glowing, I’m still in the cringe-hole, limbering up to show my children “how to handle failure”. I’m thinking a large duvet and a series of Miranda? With wine?

Or, perhaps, I’ll check out the world and find a bunch of other things that I’d like.

And apply for them.

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