It is a little ironic that rejection is a human experience that excludes no one. We can all attest to what it feels like to be rejected, forgotten, ostracized or disliked by someone. Yet knowing that none of us are exempt from this universal and at the same time, personal experience, does not diminish the pain we feel when we are avoided, ignored, disregarded or not liked. When taken personally, we ask the question, “What is wrong with me?” But, maybe we need to ask ourselves a different question.
What’s Their Story?
Everyone has a story as well as a history. My experience with rejection has taught me that I am not usually the first to be disregarded, shunned or disliked by someone. Case in point.
One of the things I enjoy about teaching kids is their uniqueness. Every year, I get a new batch of students and every group is made up of distinct individuals. Even if I’ve had an older sibling prior, or a set of twins is on my roster, no two personalities are the same.
Consequently, my students come with a history, albeit short, of productive and not so productive habits they’ve developed. Some are eager to learn. They are self-motivated and want to do well. Others have varying degrees of a Que Sera Sera attitude. My job is to steer all of them toward owning their own learning and holding them accountable to doing their best.
This last week I challenged one of my students, who possesses the Que Sera Sera attitude, by asking him, “Why do you procrastinate about getting your work done?” He gave me the shoulder shrug, but I persisted. “You might want to figure this out since you have eight more years of school before graduating. Your habit does not serve you well.”
A few days later, while he sat inside during recess completing unfinished work, he told me with tears in his eyes, “I figured out why I don’t want to do my work.”
“Tell me,” I said.
“I don’t like working for you.”
“Okay. Tell me more.”
“I don’t like you; I think you are mean, and you make me miss recess.”
A breakthrough! “Well, Frank, I appreciate your honesty and it is okay that you don’t like me. But you still have to respect me, and you still have to do your work. That is part of being a student.”
The next day, he came back and apologized. I asked him what made him say that he was sorry? “My mom.”
Grateful for this woman, I called her to discuss the scenario. “After Frank told me what he’d said to you, I reminded him that you are not the first teacher he hasn’t liked,” she said. “He won’t do the work if he doesn’t understand it and he’s too embarrassed to ask for help.”
Little Frank had a history. I was not the first teacher in his life that he did not like, but maybe the first teacher to gain some insight about him.
Yesterday, while he sat inside during recess to complete an assignment, I sat down next to him. First I asked him if he understood the assignment then I answered his questions. When he put his pencil to the paper and got it done, we both smiled.
Why bother not taking rejection personally? Everyone has a story, everyone has a history, everyone is unique. Getting to know them sheds light on understanding them. And understanding opens up possibilities other than feeling rejected.