How do I cope with rejection?

Graphic shows a young person who is thinking about rejection from their chosen university. The thought bubble above their head shows a university building with a red hand in front of it. On the left hand side is a pile of books.

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Hi, my name is Sharvari, I’m 19 years old and I’m on a gap year, which I like to call, ‘my year of self-discovery’. This piece is about how to cope with rejection, and all the feelings that come with it.

Coping with rejection

Everything is going to be okay. You’ll figure it out. Rejection is redirection.

All meaningless cliches from Ted-Talkers to my parents; I’d heard it all and I knew it to be true, but did I believe in it? No.

Did it end up being true? Yes. 

But that didn’t make the journey any easier. I still felt shit when I was rejected from all my universities last year. So, this isn’t some advice column on how everything was meant to be etc. None of that BS. It’s about how to deal with the aftermath. After all, this is devastating and that’s the first fact that we have to accept.

Story time: my final rejection

I can remember this so clearly. Of course, that was the day that I forgot my UCAS password, and while going through the hassle of resetting it I was listening to ‘Mikrokosmos’ for good luck. When I opened track and read:

‘Dear Sharvari,

Your offer to study medicine at the University of Southampton has been unsuccessful.’

it genuinely felt like I’d been winded.

That message was so unremarkable that I’m sure tons of people have gotten similar messages, and yet why is it that we don’t talk about rejection? Why do we choose to smear it with shame and hide our feelings under masks of drive and positivity? 

Rejection is completely normal

When I got rejected, I wish somebody had explicitly told me that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s okay to feel angry. It’s okay to feel jealous (this one’s important, we’ll come on to it later). It’s okay to feel apathetic. 

Doing medicine had become so firmly ingrained in my identity, to the extent that my friends even referred to me as, ‘Dr. Sharu’ (an unfortunate pastoral lesson explains that story) and, upon reflection, that was the heart of the problem. Because it had become enmeshed with my identity, when I applied it was a test of my worthiness rather than whether I could be a good doctor. When I was rejected for medicine it felt like they had rejected me as a person and that I wasn’t enough. 

We are not our rejection

You are not being rejected. Your self-worth does not change when you get rejected. Read that again.

It took me a long time to separate myself from my application. Rejection isn’t some grand personal failure, nor does it mean that you didn’t try hard enough; it just means that you weren’t a right fit for that role at that moment. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you – it’s about the other person and how well you fit their vision of who they want (I know, it’s a ‘me not you’ kinda situation). In other words, for me anyway, I just didn’t meet the criteria to be a medical student according to the universities I had applied to. And that’s it.

Coping with the jealousy and FOMO associated with rejection 

Having to deal with that plummet in self-esteem was only half the battle for me, the other half being that all my friends seemingly had their lives put together. Seeing them every day was a constant reminder of what I lacked. Purpose. A goal or some vague direction at least, and for someone who has always had a plan, this made me feel insanely insecure and jealous. This feeling was compounded by the FOMO I felt every time the topic of university came up. 

I think that people don’t talk about the jealousy that comes with rejection. There’s this insidious fear that comes with talking about jealousy because you want to be that happy, supportive friend. But how can you be, with jealousy festering under the surface? That’s why it’s so important to talk about it and to normalise it, because it is an incredibly tough but valid feeling. 

Ultimately jealousy comes from comparing your life to those around you and it’s hard not to right? Your life’s been uprooted and it feels like you’ve lost everything, and everyone around you seems to have it together. While it’s valid to feel like this, it’s just making your life harder; I mean we’ve all heard of ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, right? 

And it’s not about them: it’s about you and your life

When I shifted the focus away from other people, I started to invest my time in building the life I wanted to live for the next year, and when I got settled into that life, well, other people and their lives just faded into the background.  

‘I would’ve been so much happier had I not been rejected!’ 

Not only was I comparing myself to others, but I had also come trapped in a cycle of thinking about what my life could have been (we can all relate to this, right?). This analogy really helped me to break that cycle: imagine you’re walking through a park and you come to a part where there are two parallel paths and they look different. One might be more twisted than the other, one might have a couple of fallen branches and the other a giant pile of leaves, but crucially they both lead you to where you want to go; they’re just different. You can be equally happy on both paths. 

You don’t know if you would’ve been happier doing the said thing or, fast-forward into the future, you’re happier that you actually got rejected. While our minds can make up multiple fantasies, realise that you’ve only got this moment. So, I challenge you to pick up a pen and journal with one of these prompts to build your new life (I would’ve wanted a nudge like this at the time). 

  1. Name five qualities you have and write about times you’ve displayed them (this should help boost your self-esteem and if you can’t think of five, just do as many you can think of and ask people you love for help)
  2. What are my values? What activities can I do now that align with these values?
  3. What do I want to gain/learn? (e.g. from this year if you’re planning to take a gap year)

If you’re dealing with rejection and you need some support

Get in touch with The Mix’s team for free and non-judgemental support and advice.

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Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. Search their website for information, research, and to see how you could get involved.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
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Updated on 18-Mar-2022

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