Embracing rejection & building resilience

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Idea Journal Weekly 3
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Idea Journal Weekly 3

September 4 · Issue #259 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Successfully navigating rejection involves seeing it as part of the process of becoming successful. Once you’ve been knocked down by a rejection, the trick is to bounce back even stronger. This issue offers a few ideas on how to do that.
(~5 min read)

#1. Be a professional: you are not your work
Author Steven Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art that fear of rejection is both psychological and biological.
Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts: “This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion.”
For Pressfield, an “amateur” creator is one who gives into this fear, scared of exposing their work to public evaluation.
Pressfield tells the story of a friend who labored for years on a deeply personal novel. But once it was complete, this friend couldn’t bring himself to send the novel off to potential publishers: “Fear of rejection unmanned him.”
A “professional” creator is able to separate the results of her work – whether positive or negative – from her ego.
She loves her work and invests in it wholeheartedly, but she knows she cannot identify with it completely. Her creative self contains many works and performances, with the next one already brewing.
This perspective allows the professional to self-validate and view her work more objectively: “Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still.”
Pressfield acknowledges that taking this more objective view of one’s work requires tremendous strength of character, especially in the face of adversity.
But as he points out, for those who are truly committed, there is no alternative: the professional knows that it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
#2. Visualize the worst case to appreciate what you have
Philosophy professor William Irvine writes in his book The Stoic Challenge that we can become more emotionally resilient by using a technique from ancient Stoicism called “negative visualization.”
Imagine you receive a phone call telling you that a close friend has died. Give yourself a few seconds for this possibility to sink in. For instance, think of attending their funeral. 
Now go back to your daily business. 
As Irvine notes, when you next see this friend, you will likely feel a small burst of delight in their continued existence. 
Why? 
Because for a brief moment in time, you stopped taking their existence for granted.
For Irvine, what’s so effective about negative visualization is how simple it is to do: “You need not study with a guru on a distant mountaintop, nor practice for years to become proficient.”
It only takes a few seconds. 
Yet it’s easy for us to take what we have for granted. 
During a long period in which nothing bad happens, we might forget to do negative visualization. Irvine admits that he himself has at times become complacent. 
But life has a way of shaking us out of such complacency by presenting us with setbacks. With the right frame of mind, we can do our best to view such setbacks as a kind of favor. They can trigger in us a renewed appreciation for our life and circumstance. 
As Irvine puts it, with some cleverness you can find a bright lining to nearly any cloud you encounter:
“Almost regardless of how bad things are, they could be worse, and this alone is reason to give thanks.”
#3. Be "antifragile" and go beyond resilience
Author Buster Benson writes in an essay called Live Like a Hydra that we can do more than simply be resilient in the face of setbacks. 
For Benson, being resilient means that you can bounce back from some disturbance. For example, a bridge that can withstand a strong earthquake, or how your body repairs itself after it’s bruised. 
But Benson argues that it’s possible not only to withstand such a disturbance, but to benefit from it. He gets his inspiration from statistician and writer Nassim Taleb, who coined the term “antifragile.”
Being antifragile means benefitting from adversity or negative events. For example, how bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics, or the way venture capitalists learn from failed investments to make smarter investments in the future.
As Benson puts it, an antifragile way of life is about finding a way to gain from inevitable disorder: “To not only bounce back when things don’t go as planned, but to get stronger, smarter, and better at continuing as a result.”
Benson offers the following ten life principles based on Taleb’s concept of antifragile: 
1. Stick to simple rules
2. Build in redundancy and layers – avoid single points of failure
3. Resist the urge to suppress randomness
4. Make sure that you are fully committed to your work
5. Take many small risks – experiment and tinker
6. Avoid risks that, if lost, would wipe you out completely
7. Don’t get consumed by data
8. Keep your options open
9. Focus more on avoiding things that don’t work than trying to find out what does work
10. Look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time – respect what lasts
Quote of the week
“In December, the New York Times Magazine published an essay called ‘The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience.’ It pointed out that the word is now used everywhere, often in ways that drain it of meaning and link it to vague concepts like ‘character.’ But resilience doesn’t have to be an empty or vague concept. In fact, decades of research have revealed a lot about how it works. This research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught. In recent years, we’ve taken to using the term sloppily—but our sloppy usage doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been usefully and precisely defined. It’s time we invest the time and energy to understand what ‘resilience’ really means.”
- Author Maria Konnikova in her essay called How People Learn to Become Resilient
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