It felt like it was just yesterday…we were down to the final two: the scrawny kid from next door and me. I thought to myself, “I’ve got this, they’d have to choose me, that other kid is a stiff wind away from being blown off the field.” Here comes the pick and … you got to be kidding me. Gumby won. I can’t believe it; I just got picked last in backyard baseball. How embarrassing. Wait a minute – I just got picked last in my own damn backyard. That’s right, my dignity just struck out looking.
Now that I look back at that day, being rejected was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “oh, I’ve heard this story before. Guy gets picked last in sports, spends the next absurd amount of hours in the gym to comeback as ‘gargantuan man’, proving everyone wrong and going on to an illustrious career in that sport.” Guess what, that illustrious career of mine ended at age 21 when I finally broke down and had surgery to repair my labrum, biceps tendon, and rotator cuff in my right shoulder. Congratulations, if the first thing that came to your mind was pitcher, pat yourself on the back, you are correct. However, what I have learned from failing, and acknowledging those failures, has taught me far more than any one game, one sport ever could.
Welcome to delusional America. Population: Everyone. It is quite evident that in order for us to maintain our pristine American self-image, we often spin any negative feedback we receive in a positive way. Disagree with that statement?… Just think back to a previous time when you got picked last for something. Did “Oh, they don’t know what they are missing” or “I didn’t even want to be on that team anyway” cross your mind? Catch my drift?
Seemingly, it is only human nature that we try to digest and regurgitate everything we are told in order to place us in a better light. What exactly does that mean? If you look at today’s schools, pageants, and youth sport leagues, they practically honor and award people for breathing. I once had a kid on my little league team get an award for being the best foul ball retriever. That’s like giving a vertically challenged person an award for being “the last person to know it’s raining”.
So why is it that we must constantly provide positive reinforcement, especially to children, for doing absolutely nothing? Have we really become that diluted of a country that we can’t survive without being told we’re doing ok? You better believe it! All we are doing is setting ourselves up for a monumental collapse from stress and disappointment later in life. It’s like trying to put a smiley face Band Aid™ over a gaping wound. Sure, it might temporarily distract you from the injury, maybe even produce a heart-warming chuckle, but in the end, you still have a massive wound!
Similarly, by filtering the feedback we receive, we are merely placing ourselves at risk for even a greater amount of stress by simply masking the pain or disappointment now. If we are always being applauded for something we do, whether it is good or insignificant, we won’t know how to handle criticism and stressful situations when they actually arrive. Prime example: the state of our economy. I find it hard to believe that the banking industry did not take note of the warnings they were receiving with regards to their eminent doom ahead.
Instead of swallowing their pride and inflated paychecks, banking execs continued to pump mortgages and loans out like Santa Clause on Christmas morning. End result; a majority of those same bank executives are now pumping your gas. This is exactly why it is quintessential to experience rejection in order to help become more resistant to stress. Especially in times like these, it is utmost important that we cross over from arrogance and move into acceptance.
When I was younger and still playing baseball, I was often touted for my glove and my arm. As many of my teammates would agree, a baseball bat, however, was a foreign object to me. As I learned, a glove and a strong arm means squat when playing on a 100-foot field of dreams. That day in my backyard I received the psychological blow of a lifetime, but nevertheless it laid the foundation for a stronger psychological health (to think, if only I received a trophy for allowing the use of my backyard).
So, in order to help you fully understand the significance and impact that rejection plays on our health, I want to compare the reaction of being picked last to the affects of an antibiotic. Weird, I know. In this scenario, antibiotics will become the illusions (made up things) that individuals often create to buffer the psychological blow we receive when what people tell us, does not necessarily align with our self-image and beliefs. With that said, stress will act as the bacteria, and our coping mechanism will operate as our immune system – our internal line of defense.
I want you to think about our antibiotic, or in this case, those nice warm and fuzzy illusions we create to protect our egos from the things we do not want to hear. Similar to how antibiotics kill or prevent bacteria from multiplying, illusions and denial create a barrier from the contrasting information we receive in hopes of preventing our bruised egos from affecting our health. Individuals often use these illusions to inhibit or prevent the stress they receive from personal feedback. An individual who has the ability to cope is one that is able to master, minimize, reduce, or tolerate stress. Utilizing illusions as a way of coping however will only provide a temporary solution to a specific problem (remember the smiley face Band-Aid™). Similar to some antibiotics, the illusion process can actually cause more problems than it helps.
How might you ask? Well, over the last decade or so, issues with the frequent use and abuse of antibiotics have come to the limelight. Bacteria, which antibiotics are commonly used to fight, are starting to mutate and become resilient to the effects of antibiotics. Worse case scenario: the antibiotics will no longer have an effect on the bacteria. Similarly, if we constantly create illusions to avoid criticism, we create an environment in which we can become immune to that specific stress. Life’s stress, however, does not consist of just one strand. Eventually stress will come in different forms and through different mediums. So, if it’s not your buddies choosing you last in a pick-up game, then girls, it’s the guy who just doesn’t call back or even that “sure thing” promotion that you didn’t end up receiving.
The reality of it all is as we become reliant on shielding stress, we are actually making ourselves even more susceptible to it. Similar to how an individual’s immune system becomes weakened from its own dependency to antibiotics.
The question that presents itself is how can our body possibly be ready to fight and stay strong when all it knows is to be dependent on something else? Well, by learning to accept failure and rejection from time-to-time will only make us stronger mentally and physically. This mechanism allows our body and mind time to build up their own resiliency (antibodies) in order to maintain a strong functional ability to cope. Ultimately — providing us with the right tools to properly deal with stress.
So here’s to those times when he didn’t call back or even when it was your last name that was the one that was called last. Instead of simply buffering the fact that you weren’t the best, use that as motivation; push yourself to become a cut above the rest. Life isn’t meant to be driven in bumper cars. Sometimes we just need to crash in order to be rebuilt stronger. Once we are willing to accept stress as part of our life and learn how to live with it, only then will we be able to become hardier individuals. Maybe our moms were on to something when they said “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”
How to let rejection carry you to the top:
- Accept failing but not failure. If you didn’t get or hear what you wanted, then use that as motivation. Learn from your mistakes, adjust to adversity, and take your game up a notch.
- Unless you worked for Enron, the Nixon Administration, Bear Stearns, or Tim Donaghy, coming short of your goals falls more under your own responsibility. Remember, no matter how hard you’re working, there will always be someone out there working harder than you. Use that to fuel your passion.
- Life is a game; there shouldn’t be a second place, runner-up, or best effort. You’re in it to come out on top.