The Zen of Embracing Rejection

Douglas Kenrick, a professor of social psychology wrote a blog for Psychology Today entitled: Zen and the Art of Embracing Rejection ( This blog post mostly addresses individuals who are planning on attending graduate school and pursuing academic careers, yet the message is important for people of all ages and career paths.

Kenrick discusses the importance of handling rejection, and how individuals who have constantly received positive feedback throughout their lives can actually be at a disadvantage. The author indicates that these people are not prepared to cope with rejection. I agree with Kenrick, and although continual positive feedback can be a great ego booster, it doesn’t necessary provide us with the tools we need, especially in terms of turning rejection into an opportunity for improvement. Our culture greatly emphasizes positive feedback, particularly in school sports for young children, where keeping score is considered too competitive. Yet, the message that everyone is a winner is not preparing young people for the real world. Sometimes the path to success is messy and entails rejection and failure along the way.

Although a tremendous amount of success has its obvious advantages, I think it can create the illusion that we are immune from rejection. As Kenrick points out, this is probably why many successful individuals respond to negative feedback with intense shock and psychological pain. He highlights the importance of having an open and non-defensive mind when receiving constructive criticism. This advice encourages us to override the self-serving bias, in which we take credit for success, yet blame our failures on external forces. Although the self-serving bias may be our natural default setting, we are all capable of gaining self-awareness by challenging our thought patterns and considering alternative explanations for our shortcomings.

Despite his advice to remain open to criticism, Kenrick does admit that he still goes through the stages of grief when his work as a researcher is rejected. I think the stages of grief can be an essential process to coping with rejection, and in certain instances, denial, anger, and even depression must be experienced, in order to eventually arrive at acceptance and rebirth. At the rebirth stage, we no longer view rejection as a dead end but as an opportunity to refine our work and do better in the future. Thus, criticism can challenge us to question our work and seek the truth, which can be very beneficial for us in the long run.

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