Odd Man Out – Life Lessons

When rejection becomes another word for a life lesson.

I’ll never forget the moment my freshman year in high school when I was told that I was not chosen by any of my high school’s fraternities. There were four of us. Four miserable rejects, slumped in our chairs, staring at the floor of Mr. Schurr’s deserted classroom, the teacher in charge of the school’s social affairs and who had the unenviable job of giving us the bad news. I remember feeling a wave of shame wash over me; somewhere inside there were tears trying to fight their way to the surface, but I managed to hold them back. What I had suspected all along had been verified: no one wanted me. I was pudgy, I was useless and at 15, my life was over.

I dreaded telling my parents the news, but I noted with some surprise that they didn’t exactly hold a funeral when I told them. In fact, they skipped right past my aching self-pity, knowing that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to teach me anything. They realized rejection happens every day. Someone turns you down for a date, a client says no when you ask for the order, you tell a joke and nobody laughs. It’s rejection in one form or another and we’ve all had our share over the years

However, by my senior year I’d shot up six inches, played basketball and captained our golf team. I was headed for Notre Dame and I had come to realize that there was far more to life than pledging a fraternity. I thought those days of fear and self-loathing were over.

Fast-forward a few decades and there it was again: rejection. It was 10 years ago I ran into it again—this time, from a member of my own family. This time, it was my daughter, Molly, who called me on a business trip to tell me in her soft voice she was resigning from our company. “Are you pregnant?” I asked. “No,” she replied. She told me she was going to fulfill her lifelong dream of teaching.

For a moment I was numb. She’d been with us for three years. She had done well. I was counting on her. However, the more we talked, the more I came to see she did not love the business as much as we did.  I saw clearly that the publishing business was our passion—not hers. In retrospect, I realized she had decided to live her own dream.

So maybe it wasn’t rejection after all—maybe it was simply a situation that delivered a series of sound lessons:

  • You can’t orchestrate your child’s life.
  • You must love your child unconditionally. There will be bumps in the road but things generally work out for the best.
  • Forget about yourself and focus on your child’s emotional growth and stability.
  • Celebrate the child who breaks away from the parental yoke and finds true independence.

As I learned 60 years ago, what looks and feels like rejection is just a blip on the radar, and it may in fact be an opportunity—the old idea that when one door closes, another opens.  In Molly’s case, I see that her career decision had nothing to do with my aspirations for her. Which is the way it ought to be if we’re going to give society a generation of independent thinkers.

Happy New Year, all. May your resolutions for 2017 include letting go of your children by nurturing their decision-making process. And forgetting that fear of rejection.

written by: John Shuff

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