I recently found this wonderful video shared by a friend of mine on Facebook. It is from Jia Jiang and it is a talk he gave on how he learned to embrace rejection. I recommend that you watch the video - for his story is amazing and it really speaks to the powerful hold that the fear of rejection has over many of our lives.
Of course Jiang is not the only one to make this important point. In his address at the service of celebration at William and Mary, Varun Soni made a similar point about that those who are most successful also have a very high failure rate.
My favorite idea in Jiang's video is that rejection is simply someone's personal opinion and opinions are one thing human beings have in abundance. So all of this has me thinking about how rejection and our fear of it, relates to faith. See I am in the midst of a job search and overcoming my fear of reaching out, talking to people, asking for their help is so hard because I am so afraid of bothering them and maybe even more deeply that they will say no and that the no is really a rejection of me. Job searching is a lot about rejection - sometimes the overt kind - thank you for applying we had many qualified applicants blah blah blah and that indirect kind, the you never hear anything at all.
So what do faith and the fear of rejection have to do with each other? Well if faith is the belief in something that we cannot prove or touch or feel or see. If faith is connected to things like love, hope, compassion, beauty and truth. Then faith teaches us to persevere, to risk, to take the step not when the fear is gone but to do it even though we are afraid. True courage requires faith; it is not about not being afraid, Jiang didn't say he stopped fearing rejection, he stopped letting the fear of it stop him from doing things. In his case he faced his fear by asking people for outrageous things he was sure they would say no to (often they said yes!). Again true courage is not because we are not afraid, it is doing in spite of the fear, if we are not afraid than no courage is required.
Fear itself is not the problem, the problem is when we let the fear run our lives. It is allowing the fear of a thing to keep us from reaching out, like in my case asking to talk to people about my search and what I am looking for. It is the fear that you are bothering someone if you ask for their help - so we don't ask.
Having faith is also not the assurance that things will all work out because they may not. Faith does not guarantee us a failure proof life. Having faith, taking risks means that we are more likely to succeed at something if we keep trying then if we let the fear hold us back but as Dean Soni pointed out the most successful also fail the most often.
It is interesting that in much of fiction a character will try to get rid of fear - to be fearless. Yet in every case these attempts to become fearless fail because fear can be a useful tool - it can help us protect ourselves and others. One episode of the TV show Charmed, Piper writes a fearless spell. Being fearless she takes on a demon by herself, taunting him without regard to the consequences to herself or her unborn child, now she had her sisters and her husband and even her deceased mother to help her out and teach her the lesson that being fearless is not the goal. In the series Divergent by Veronica Roth, one of the groups is Dauntless and one of the characters is constantly trying to become fearless - yet the character must learn is that it is not about not being afraid, it is about being afraid and doing what you believe is right any way. Our heroine does not lose her fear, she works with it and seeks to embrace it in balance with her other gifts. Another great example is Harry Potter. Harry is afraid a lot of the time yet what makes him a hero is that he does not let the fear master him. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare also has a character seeking to be fearless or who is often seen as fearless. Again and again, this notion of fearless is knocked down as not the goal of courage but rather a detriment to it. Often these characters long for fearlessness because they fear loss of control and their need for others. The fears are connected - loss of control, rejection, failure - at the end of the day they are all similar - useful tools, horrible masters and they keep us separated from one another. Parker Palmer continually reminds us to embrace our fears, to ride the monsters all the way down because there we will find our deep connections to one another and our compassion for one another (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation).
Once I saw this video I realized that I was procrastinating about reaching out and asking to talk and network to some people. I still have more to do. Yet somehow realizing that rejection is just one person's opinion put my fear of it in perspective. So now to have faith to keep moving forward, and to keep trying even though I will fail, people will say no and yet I only need to get one full-time job and only one place to say yes. It is also helpful to remember that those who are looking for the right candidate to join them can also be fearing rejection, afraid of the 'no' as well. Being a religious leader has taught me that when we lean into faith and pay attention to where are souls are called and connected then we will find that 'yes' beyond the fear.
What keeps you going? How do you make fear a useful tool rather than a paralyzing master? In what do you have faith and what sustains it? What are your worst fears? Are those fears useful tools or horrible masters? What would it mean to embrace your fear and make it a tool?