I, like many, was (and to an extent still am) afraid of being rejected in an array of situations — dating, academia, applying for jobs, etc.
I live in Seoul, South Korea and indeed view it as a personal and professional training ground. Professional because of how long and hard Koreans work (Koreans rank first in the OECD). And regarding the social arena: while going out, I have been rejected in my advances to the opposite gender so many times that I have literally lost count (insert a joke if you would like, that’s fine). As we say in French, “j’ai pris un coup de vent” (roughly, I took a slap of air). It definitely was not a pleasant feeling, but the more I was rejected, the less effect it had on me. This is not to say that I am so inept* at talking to people nor is to exalt how great I am in this aspect of interpersonal relationships. However, I can say that in all candidness, I now do not really mind being rejected by a girl who I find attractive (or palpably less so anyhow).
As one friend put it to me one well-deserved night out in Tokyo after a 15-hour work day is this: “Life is timing.”
The same person who may not be receptive at the moment you approached them may have been your partner in marriage if it were not for external circumstances for any number of reason(s), such as: a recent break-up, sour mood, family trauma, fatigue, or a dispute with a friend. It doesn’t necessarily reflect on you as these factors were likely outside of your control (caveat: naturally one must always have an honest evaluation of themselves — I would not be able to perform open-heart surgery that well, if at all, for example). I will not delve into relationship advice or anything of that sort, but I do find that overcoming the fear of rejection by speaking to a member of the opposite sex who you find charming to be a good exercise, and applicable in all areas of one’s life. After all, rejection is an anxiety that is not solely limited to relationships.
In our everyday lives, giving in to the fear of rejection actually means that we end up implicitly complying and consenting to confining ourselves to a defined space — in our abilities, identity, relationships — thereby limiting who we are and what we can do. We are not reaching as far or high as we could if we had the courage to enact upon our ambitions and goals.
I participated in four exchange programmes, one of which was a dual-degree partnership. I spent more time studying outside of my university than attending my “home” university. I am almost certain that I either broke, or at least hold the record for the most number of exchange programmes and/or time abroad for a bachelor degree in the history of the school (laughs). This aside, if I had listened to what university counselors were “advising” me to do or if I had worried that most other students were not pursuing the same path as I was endeavouring to take, then there is no way that I would have done more than one exchange programme, two at the very most. These exchange programmes were by far the best experiences during my undergraduate studies!
I was also told that it would be impossible to take a certain final-year finance course outside of my university for my fourth exchange programme. Rather than accepting this rejection at face value, I decided to research the equivalent course offered in the university overseas — it featured almost exactly the same content I discovered. I chose to hand write a letter to the Dean of the Finance Department to plead my case. In the letter I explained, citing analysis from the research I conducted, that the courses offered at my university and in the exchange programme were effectively identical. It just seemed logical that I should be able to take the course abroad in my view as the facts all matched. In the end, I was granted an exceptional permission to attend the class abroad, which I was told was the first time such an authorization was granted. This is just one example of many.
Never let someone define who you are or tell you what you can or cannot do. At the very least, question what they are saying and why they should be able to judge who you should be! Nobody else besides yourself should define who you are.
Sometimes people say things based off of their own empirical experiences or simply repeat superficial stereotypes that may be completely off the mark and false. A particularly vivid memory comes to mind: several years ago I heard a teacher in Taipei tell everyone in a hostel that Korean is the easiest language to learn in the world for an English speaker. I couldn’t help myself (due to my own struggles in learning the language, which she ironically never tried doing) to swiftly point out to her that the the U.S. State Department ranks the difficulty of languages for an English-speaker, and that Korean is classified as one of the hardest in the world. Not only that, but it is spoken by the least amount of people in the “hard” category, by quite a considerable amount (hence my occasional hardships in South Korea). Another case in point: what about the career counselors who I was mostly not listening to in university? Well, a McKinsey survey of 8,000 employers, graduates, and employers strongly suggests that that universities are not the best, or not good at all for that matter, at estimating how well-prepared their graduates are (look at part 2 of the info graphic, there is a considerable gap between what educational providers believe is the level of preparedness of their graduates — 72% — and what employers actually think is the job readiness level of those graduates — 42%). Employers are the ones who are hiring graduates at the end of the day, not the educational providers. This could even start an entire other discussion about the value, or lack thereof, of the higher education business model itself.
Nobody is necessarily going to be able to lead you to overcome being rejected without you first making the choice to put forth effort on your part.
I will leave you with the following:
Strive for your goals, make your attempt in this life. And ignore whatever else may hold you back.
What is there to lose? Worst case: You find yourself in the exact same situation that you are in now — the “status quo.” And if it goes well, then the benefits are boundless. If feelings of worry are so overwhelming and inhibiting, then think of it this way: in the face of death, everything is trivial so it won’t matter anyway.
*Nearly everyone I know in Korea has experienced the same sort of rejection while out at night on a regular basis (arguably interpersonal relationships can be quite conservative if one is selective, i.e. to have standards).