Lined up across the room of my 8th grade literature class was every student waiting for their turn in the spelling bee. I was sweating bullets when I finally got my first word. It was the first round, and I was so relieved when I heard my word. Sugar. I was so excited I quickly blurted out S-U-G-E-R. I then promptly smacked myself in the face before the teacher had a chance to tell me I was wrong. I knew I was wrong. I heard it with my own ears. To say I felt stupid is the understatement of at least 3 decades. My first word in the spelling bee was also my last. The other kids went on spelling words for what seemed like forever while I sat cuddled up in my shame. I guarantee those kids don’t even remember that day, while it is marked in my history forever.
We all do dumb things. We all get overconfident and immediately become righteously human in ways unimaginable seconds before. Moments of weakness remind us daily we are not deity, and we should have no such grandiose opinions of what we are capable of doing. To remove all doubt, I’ll admit that just this week I tripped over my own feet a few times, closed the door to teacher’s lounge on the principal I’m currently working for, had my car get stuck in gear and lurch forward in front of a group of new friends, and I called someone by the wrong name 4 times in a row. Did I mention it is just Monday? So, my point is impressing people isn’t exactly a forte of mine.
We all want to belong. That’s why we struggle with rejection from an early age. It doesn’t matter if we are on the playground, in a classroom, or even at home with our siblings. We strive to fit in. We want to make people like us because it’s a part of what makes us human. To be rejected on a basic level is devastating. As children, those that reject us will be considered sworn enemies for a lifetime or until the next week when a different kid tells us we can’t play kickball, we are picked last for a team, or we are laughed at for not having the current cool item.
As nice as it would be, this doesn’t go away when we become grown ups. We want to seem acceptable to our peers. Some of us might want to be the funniest, the prettiest, the nicest, the best cook, the best party thrower, or even the best screw up, but we all want to be something to someone. To be nothing to anyone says we are practically invisible and unimportant somehow. As a fly on the wall at any water cooler scenario you could listen in to conversation to see that the basic need to not be rejected is still relevant and alive in any person. Can some people generally not care? Yes, I believe that is possible. On a more specific note we all have people who we invest in their opinions more than others. We will care about them, even if we don’t mind the herd’s point of view.
Lately I’ve been considering what happens to you after repeated rejection? What if the rejection is from the one person that has an opinion that matters to you? I know what was true for me. I started to tell myself stories. I made excuses for the person rejecting me. I considered maybe the person didn’t like himself. Maybe he is hurting right now because of something that he is going through. Or perhaps he is depressed. He had a poor situation growing up, so maybe that explained it. Specific days of rejection I’d say to myself that he must have had a bad day at work. In general, I would hypothesize that perhaps he just didn’t value the same things I did.
As a result of all these stories I told myself something sinister happened. The stories stopped being about the person who was rejecting me emotionally, and they started to be about me. When the person I looked to for affection or affirmation didn’t have the reaction I was hoping for, I told myself I told the story wrong. I felt like I was annoying them by needing attention in the first place, and just maybe I was too needy emotionally, and they deserved to be left alone instead of being bothered by me and my needs. I felt like my narrative was uninteresting, and no one would want to hear about my day. I questioned whether jokes were funny because he never laughed. It didn’t matter what excuse or reason I ended up telling myself for the day, the end result was the same. I felt alone, lonely, unloved, and unwanted.
Do you sometimes do dumb things? Of course you do. That makes us the humans we are. If anything the stories that make us dorky or human should unite us and bond us. We all have them, after all. Moreover, our stories are not important unless we tell them. Our stories make us who we are, and we are wired to want to share, build community, relate, and communicate. Relationships are tricky, but wanting to be accepted transcends age, gender, location, and whether we were popular as a young person. There are people out there that want to hear your stories. They want to invest in you. They want to know about the time you spelled sugar wrong in a spelling bee, how you poured liquid soap into the dishwasher once and caused an evening of agony, and the time you took Benadryl right before a church service and couldn’t stop singing “I Feel Good” during the sermon. If someone isn’t investing in you, don’t stop telling your stories. Tell the stories anyway. Those that matter will adore them. If they don’t, they just aren’t your people anyway.