As human beings we’re biologically conditioned to be averse to rejection and failure. It’s why we feel nervous when speaking in front of crowds, on first–and sometimes multiple–dates, or asking for that big promotion at work.
At the same time we’re constantly seeking rejection’s opposite–validation–whether it’s on social media, SOD, from co-workers, family members, lovers, etc.
The reason is simple: we evolved in tribes. Small tribes and bands of 20-30 individuals, huddling together against oblivion in the day to day struggle to survive.
Validation in these conditions–whether praise for physical traits or skills–reaffirmed our position in the tribe, and could often improve it. Rejection and failure, on the other hand, meant a loss of social status and other negative consequences: less food, fewer mating opportunities, and potentially, exile.
For example, suppose a young man continually brought home large animals because he was extremely accurate throwing a spear–his status in the tribe would surely improve. The chiefs would likely grant him better sleeping quarters, a larger share of the food, and appoint him as a leader of future hunts. In addition, women in the tribe would see this success and find him more attractive as a mate.
But the reverse is also true. Suppose the same young man chose a poor spot to camp, his hunting party spent the night getting attacked by mosquitos, and they came back empty handed after a long day’s hunt. We can guess that it wouldn’t take too many of these episodes before his place in the tribe was diminished.
So our need to seek validation and our deep fear of rejection and failure makes perfect sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
The irony is that in modern society it’s just the opposite.
It’s not that validation doesn’t matter–we’re still a meritocracy last I checked–it’s just that most of the validation we seek lacks any tangible benefit. Getting likes on Facebook or Insta rarely confers any real value, and yet people spend countless hours posting photos, videos, memes, and GIFs complete with hashtags and flair and all the other bells and whistles so their followers will click that little heart at the bottom of the screen. In short, people who are not celebrities spend a lot of time and energy behaving as if they are and gain nothing for it.
As for rejection and failure, it almost never matters unless it’s publicly broadcast, and often not even then. When it comes to dating for example, what real harm is there if a girl doesn’t give me her number or flakes? None. It doesn’t mean other women will do the same, nor does prevent me from meeting more.
It’s the same with applying for a new job or promotion. You don’t get it? Who cares. There are almost certainly other jobs, other positions, other promotions. And when it comes to starting a business, most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that they either failed many times before they flourished, or that it was a particular failure early on in the business that helped them right the ship.
And yet, the fear of rejection, the need for validation, drives so many of our interactions.
The danger is two-fold:
- With validation it’s that we get focused on the wrong things: social media, matching on SOD, beating video games, and/or altering our behavior to gain approval from others in the absence of any real benefit. In other words, it’s a time suck.
- With rejection and failure it’s that we forgo countless opportunities because we’re afraid of a boogie man who doesn’t exist–scared to death of something that 99% of the time carries no consequences whatsoever.
A couple stories to illustrate the point:
Of Beer and Awards
My family’s brewery, Heater Allen, recently entered the GABF (Great American Beer Festival) with the hope of winning some medals in the lager beer categories. Unfortunately, we came away empty handed.
But… the beer is still really good. Moreover, it’s not as if my dad and sister (Brew Master and Head Brewer, respectively) are going to make any sweeping changes to any of the recipes–in fact, most will probably be exactly the same as they were before.
So in the end, the awards didn’t matter one way or the other.
The validation that came with a medal would have been nice, but I don’t only drink beer made from winners of the GABF–do you? Actually, of all the craft beer I’ve enjoyed, I couldn’t tell you right now which breweries have won medals and which haven’t.
The rejection or perceived failure doesn’t matter either. We’re not going to change the recipes. The beer is good. It changes nothing. And while it might have been nice to crow about winning medals in the brewsletter, customers aren’t going to suddenly flock to us because we have awards.
No, they’re going to drink Heater Allen because it’s good beer.
These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For
OK, thought experiment here: suppose you’re going to a bar and I tell you there are going to be 50 people at this bar, one of whom has a check worth $5,000–and, all you have to do to get this check is talk to each person and ask them if they have it.
Would you talk to every person at that bar?
A: yes, of course you would. Because the people who don’t have the check aren’t rejecting you, right? They just don’t have what you’re looking for.
The irony is that the entire interaction sounds terrifying if instead of looking for $5,000 you were looking for a date.
But why? It’s the same thing–anyone who doesn’t want to talk or exchange numbers simply doesn’t have what you’re looking for. NBD.
In fact, it’s gotten to the point for me where I feel sorry for women who don’t want to hang out; seriously, how many tall, handsome novelists do you meet on a daily basis ladies? Kidding (sort of)!
But in that moment I don’t have what they’re looking for.
And that’s OK.
Because by definition that means she doesn’t have what I’m looking for either–and there are plenty of beautiful women out there who do.
Understanding these realities is one of the benefits of being an existentialist. My purpose is my purpose, regardless of the results it yields. For me: I’m an author and a teacher. I tell stories and try to make sense of the world, taking part in life’s joy as much as possible–family, friends, lovers, experiences, etc.
Some people will like my stories; some people won’t.
Some people want to spend time with me; some people won’t.
I may get rich doing this and I may not; I may die tomorrow or live until I’m 99; I may continue being single-ish or get married next year (unlikely lol).
The point is not that the results don’t matter, because of course they do to some extent. The point is that I can’t worry about the results, because I can’t control them. All I can do is spend time refining the process, taking feedback as life provides it, and enjoying the journey–to be the best author, teacher, dad, friend, and lover that I can be.
And I know, ultimately, if I do those things, I’ll get all the validation I need and whatever rejection or failure I encounter will help me or won’t matter.
Namaste and much love!