One of the regulars at my monthly We Hate Networking meetups recently told me to write about how hard this is. “What if people aren’t nice to you? What if they say no? What if they don’t like you? Write about that.”
Personally, I don’t struggle with this very much, and I think I know why: practice.
My Years of Rejection
As a child, I was very, very strange, due largely to an undiagnosed sleeping condition that had me operating in a state of extreme sleep deprivation for years. Moodiness, uncombed hair, and general nonconformity were par for the course.
Not surprisingly, I spent many years in a state of near-constant rejection and ridicule by my peers. It was tough, sure. But it also taught me a lot.
I learned that no matter what others might think of me, I still liked myself – I was my own best friend. I learned that, even as most of my classmates rejected me, there were always those who saw value in me and seemed to genuinely enjoy me, like my teachers and librarians.
It Got Better
By the time high school rolled around and I entered a larger school, things got better and I learned that, in that bigger crowd, I was able to find a subgroup of people with whom I had a lot in common, and actually develop a group of friends. It’s a big world and there truly are people out there for everyone.
Perhaps the biggest lesson, though, was that rejection, while it certainly stings in the moment, is usually temporary and doesn’t do much harm in the long run. In spite of the literally hundreds of people who despised and ostracized me as a child, I grew up to be someone who is generally well liked, with an extremely strong network of supportive and mutually productive social ties.
I’ve even been successful in a number of fields that require a high degree of likeability and the ability to gain trust quickly: high end hospitality, fundraising, sales, public speaking, and facilitation. Having been a weird kid with no friends didn’t do any lasting damage. In fact, I think it helped.
Because of all that rejection, I know that rejection won’t kill me. I know that it’s not important that everyone like me, just that the right people do. I know that for every person who doesn’t like me, there are 10 more who will, and I should put my time and energy into the 10, rather than wasting it on the 1.
The Art of Moving On
So nowadays, when I’m getting the vibe that I’m just not someone’s cup of tea, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t push it. I don’t question it. I just leave them be, move on, and go looking for someone who will like me. They’re out there. Lots of them.
And they’re out there for you, too. Hang in there. Try not to let it bother you. Be yourself, and keep looking for the people who will appreciate all the awesome things about that.
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