I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine last week. He asked me if I would be trying out for a specific competitive team at school and I immediately cringed. The case competition program at my university is extremely well known and seeks out well spoken students to represent the school around the world at competitions. You crack a case from a real company with your team, and present to a panel of judges- often the panel includes executives from the company in question. I’ve been told at least a dozen times by friends who’ve competed that I should try out, and I’ve always hesitated or laughed it off. “Case competitions aren’t for me” I’ve always said.
Maybe that’s true. I don’t really like the idea of being in a room for three hours with the knowledge that when you walk out of that room, you need to present your solution. Truth be told, I’ve never really been interested in competing, but the program itself has kind of fascinated me. This year, instead of competing, I applied and joined the organizing committee for the competition that actually takes place at OUR university. I thought that if I wasn’t going to participate, I could at least experience some version of competing through the organization of the event itself.
But this particular team my friend was asking me about wasn’t one of the super scary teams. It was a debate team. One of the reasons I didn’t want to try out because I knew I would have to debate against really qualified students who had done this many times before, and I didn’t want to go up there and look completely ridiculous. I didn’t just hesitate- I really did cringe at the idea.
When did I become so afraid of rejection?
It’s not the only recent instance in my life where I cringed at the thought of rejection. Since losing in the university-wide election last year, there are certain parts of campus that I can’t go to without sorta kinda hyperventilating a little bit. I always associated the feeling with the idea that I was probably still upset about losing, not to mention all the time and energy I put in those 6 months of my life. But is that really all there is to it?
In the last two years of my life, I’ve become a much more confident and outgoing person than I ever was as a teenager. I still joke that I’m a silly, socially awkward person, but I realize that I’m not really that person anymore- not like I used to be. I like meeting new people because I see my value in a conversation and feel quite comfortable in my own skin. I know what I have to offer and I constantly strive to improve myself and find success and happiness. So why do I keep short changing myself on certain new opportunities?
“You need to stop being afraid of trying new things because you’re afraid of losing or being rejected” my friend said to me.
“I’m not afraid of being rejected. I’m afraid of putting my heart and soul into a project and then coming up short.”
“I don’t care if you don’t try out for case competitions. I really don’t. But you need to embrace rejection and loss and realize it will only make you stronger. Stop considering how others will view your losses, and see how you will gain from them” he countered.
Well, okay, this is advice I can work with. There was a second where I kind of wanted to argue with him a little bit and explain that I wasn’t afraid of loss, what was he talking about, he had no idea. But the truth is, he was on that team with me when we lost. He’s had his fair share of putting himself out there and not quite getting his way. I had to accept that his advice did have some merit, because it did. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Are some rejections bigger than others? I can dust myself off pretty easily after being rejected from a job (even if I really want it), but when it comes to opening myself up in front of a room of my peers? That seems unfathomable to me still. I’ve come a long way in two years, but I think I still have some work to do on my self confidence. I know people won’t see me differently if I don’t do well, but will I see myself differently?
I want to say no to opportunities because they don’t feel right to me, not because I’m afraid of not getting them. So maybe I really don’t want to participate in case competitions, but he was definitely seeing a pattern in my decisions that I was choosing to avoid seeing mysel. When I say no to a situation where I have to take myself out of my comfort zone, I want to think a little longer about it and make sure I’m making the choice for myself, and not to save face.
Being confident in yourself is something you always have to work on, and I’m still working on mine. I’ve come a long way, but I know I still have a little ways to go. You have to believe in yourself before you ask anyone else to. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m trying to be less afraid.
How do you deal with rejection?