Monday, August 12, 2013
I Like You as a Person: The Many Faces of Rejection
You were an excellent candidate. We're sure you'll find the right fit very soon.
After reviewing your submission, we have decided that it's not right for our upcoming issue.
I like you as a person.
We like you as a person.
We're posting your position. We need to find the best teacher we can for these students. Maybe that's you. You're welcome to reapply if you want.
This just isn't working out.
We can still be friends.
Perhaps the most damning: silence.
We've all faced rejection. We've seen it come in its various forms, taking on different tones and phrasings to meet its needs. It can be said with a smile, a half-grimace that looks just as uncomfortable to make as it is to hear. Maybe it comes in the form of a lost job or the dissolution of a relationship, a rejected manuscript; it can come face to face, through an email, a text, a phone call. Regardless of the wording or means of communication, the message is simple and painful, landing like a sharp slap across the face: someone, for some reason, has decided that you are not good enough. There are times when the news comes as no surprise; hints have been dropped to the extent that you'd actually be more surprised if the news never came. Other times it comes as a shock, no warning signs evidenced in the days, the weeks, the months leading up to it.
I knew my first marriage was over long before my divorce was finalized. And I was glad when it was official, a statement of mutual rejection on the part of both parties forever etched in stone as a statement of something that had failed. Likewise, I knew it was very likely that I would lose my job at the end of the last school year. One of my bosses had dropped hints throughout most of the year, even telling me in a meeting that I may have to reinterview for my position over the summer. So it came as no surprise when, on the last day of school, I was called into the office and told I no longer had a job. In fact, I told them I'd have been more surprised had we not been having that conversation. And then one of the assistant principals smiled at me and said, "We like you as a person." And it felt as though a little piece of my soul withered and died. I was there as a teacher, a professional with a job to do. I'm glad they liked me as a person, but I needed them to like me as an educator.
When my exwife was fired from the doctors office where she worked during the first year or so of our marriage, a good friend of mine told me something that I've been turning over in my mind for the last several months. He had been let go from a management position nearly twenty years before, and as I sat in his office after telling him of Amanda's being fired, he said, "It's tough. Once a person loses a job, they're never the same." I didn't think much of it, having never been let go from a position. I couldn't relate to being in that situation. But I've found now that he's right. You begin to doubt, to question. You wonder if you truly aren't good enough. Whatever confidence you had is replaced by self doubt; you find that you question your abilities, wondering if maybe your passions truly are greater than your talents; and you begin to wonder what exactly it is you're supposed to be doing with your life. At least that's where I've found myself thee past few months. If I'm not a teacher, what am I?
Shortly before my divorce was finalized, I had dinner with a friend who had also recently gone through a divorce. We talked about the direction our lives were going, and the topic of God's plan for our lives came up. She said that sometimes she will stop and call out, "God, was that your plan? Was that your plan and I fucked it up?" I've always heard that God has a plan for us, that everything happens for a reason. Somedays that's a comfort, a gentle reminder that everything will be okay; but more often than not, it provides little solace, as I watch my life take directions I would never have expected. I never expected to be an out-of-work divorced father. I never expected to be questioning if I truly wanted to be a teacher or if I was any good at teaching. I never expected losing a teaching job to hit me as hard as it has.
When we are faced with rejection, those closest to us offer support in any way they can. Some will tell us with a smile to consider the source. "They told you you weren't good enough? Come on, they're not exactly doing great themselves," they'll say, an attempt to make us feel better, suggesting maybe we're just as good if not better than those who rejected us. It's a quiet comfort, but as the weeks stretch into months of bei unemployed, of being single, that comfort, as superficial as it can be, begins to wane.
A friend of mine who taught high school for eight years had finally had enough last year. He suffered a nervousness breakdown and took a medical leave. He was written off until the end of the school year and refused to go back those year, officially quitting. He told me that the scrutiny and rejection were too much, and that he would never again work for people who weren't as smart as he was. When faced with rejection, that can be an easy attitude to adopt. It can mark you feel better, superior, but it can't be a healthy attitude to sustain, for it must be draining to keep up that pretense as a defense mechanism to deter future rejection and criticism.
Rejection can be a learning experience. We can use it, learn from it, and be better the next time. But it takes quite a while and quite a determination to reach that point, where acceptance begins and then transforms into something beneficial, something to carry us into a brighter future. I have to admit I'm not there yet. I haven't accepted that my not being good enough can actually make me a better teacher. I know it's true, but acceptance and knowledge are two different albeit related things. For if I truly accept it, I'll have to let go of the bitterness that took root with the sting of rejection. I'll have to move on. Maybe to a new teaching position. Maybe to a new career. I don't know at this point, for as my friend suggested, I'm no longer the same. Always a doubtful, self conscious person, these feelings of inadequacy have increased exponentially since last May. It's easy for me to think I'm smarter than some teachers I know who still have jobs. Easy, but not healthy, for it gives me an air of superiority that will get me nowhere. Nowhere except depressed that they have jobs and I don't.
What to do when faced with rejection? The easy answer is to reflect on it, accept it, learn from it, and move on. But that, like so many things life, is much easier said than done.