Go on, stick your neck out

In order to succeed, we must grow. In order to grow, we must leave our comfort zones. But to leave our comfort zones, we risk rejection and failure. Most of us avoid rejection, even at the cost of our own growth and happiness. Why? Because rejection hurts! Researchers have shown us that rejection hurts as much as physical pain, and even activates the same neural pathways.

So why is this? Why should it be that we fear failing so much that it actually pains us? That it causes us to avoid trying and fear change, even in the face of potential reward? I think the ultimate answer is that as humans, one of our greatest latent fears is to be shunned. We are social creatures, dependent on each other for our very survival. It is patterned deep within us to fear being ostracized by the herd. Without our tribe, we would die. Even in this day and age, it still feels that way to us.

Oh sure, we are willing to extend ourselves sometimes, in some ways. But I’m willing to bet if I asked ten people on the street they last time they really put themselves out there, maybe one out of ten would have a good story to tell. For the most part, people want to change but actually-really-pretty much stay the same. We are willing to stretch, but by degrees, and we are stretching in the direction we were already leaning anyway. It is one thing to “stretch” within a comfortable niche, it’s another to do something completely new – where you may not even know what skills will be required, let alone how much of a stretch it will be.

And yet, rejection and failure practically pave the way to success! There are countless examples of successful innovators, leaders, writers, and artists who failed or were rejected hundreds of times before finding success. The conclusion I draw here is that if you want to be happy, resilient, and wildly successful, you have to learn to accept and cope with rejection. You have to learn to put yourself out there and risk failing. You have to practice getting back up and trying again.

I mentioned in December that my “guiding stars” for 2016 are joy and courage. To fearlessly seek joy sounds so shiny and spectacular, doesn’t it? But like a lot of people, I find myself taking baby steps instead of bold strides. But maybe there is something to the idea of inoculating yourself against your fears. In fact, some clever fellow has actually made a game out of it. The game is simple –  overcome fear of rejection by doing one thing out of your comfort zone a day. The point is to learn to handle rejection gracefully, even gleefully. It teaches you that even if you “fail,” you can still “win.” Maybe you gain stronger skills, a broadened perspective, or a new contact, all of which you can use when you cast your net next time. You don’t have to be bold and brash to be brave, but you do have to have the courage to try, try again.

So go on, stick your neck out. I dare you.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow'” –Mary Anne Radmacher 


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