Coping with Social Rejection

To anyone who’s ever been rejected, ignored, or excluded by someone more “popular” than you are, this article’s for you.

I am not an important man, although importance is a relative concept. I’ve written books and published articles. My research has been reported in international media outlets like The Economist, the Financial Times, and BBC News (among hundreds of other publications). As a professor, I am reasonably well known within my field of research. But I know where I stand in the social hierarchy and I know that if I were to reach out to someone like Elon Musk or Kanye West, I would not get a response.

Social rejection happens all the time at levels much further down the hierarchy than Musk or West. Undergraduate students write professors who never respond. Junior professors write senior professors who never respond. Senior professors reach out to Chancellors who never respond. These are the types of rejections that hurt. No one really cares if Elon Musk doesn’t write back because, why should he? But when we reach just a little bit up the social hierarchy and are ignored, that hurts, because it reinforces our own inferior position.

Everyone has had this experience before. When it happens, it feels like your contributions to the world have been insufficiently remarkable to warrant a response.

In July of this year, I invited Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist and popular podcaster, onto my own #DireEd podcast to talk about IQ as a predictor of university success. He was quite enthusiastic, replying, “Sure! Can we do this in the fall?” I sent him an invitation to hold our podcast on the 21st of September, which he swiftly accepted onto his calendar. I was pretty excited! He has 68k followers on Twitter (compared to my 21k followers) and I’ve been following his popular “Psychology Podcast” for some time. It’s really good.

“I am not an important man, although importance is a relative concept.”

A couple days ago, I sent Scott an e-mail to confirm our upcoming podcast recording session. This is where it gets weird. He asked me to send him correspondence where we confirmed our meeting because he didn’t “have that in [his] calendar.” Curious, I thought. It was in my calendar. So I forwarded him the original e-mail I had sent him. This is where it gets even weirder. His response to me was: “Honestly, I don’t like that you took for granted that a time you set up would be a date that would work for me. I’m going to pass on this.” My jaw dropped. What?

I don’t know what really happened. Maybe he looked at my Twitter account and saw some off-color joke he didn’t like. Maybe he reconsidered that my paltry 21k Twitter followers weren’t enough to warrent his time. Only he knows the real reason.

When I then forwarded the notification I received from him proving that he had, in fact, accepted the meeting onto his own calendar for the 21st of September, the conversation got even weirder still (if that was even possible!). His response: “I was up for chatting but we never confirmed. I must have accidentally accepted the invite, sorry if that made you think we were on. I explicitly said in my email to you sometime after September 15th but we didn’t set a date. I am unfortunately busy on this coming Monday.” Yeah, right. This makes a lot of sense, especially given that I wrote him a couple of days ago to confirm the date.

Look, I don’t know the real reason why he pulled out, but I do know that a simple, “Hey, I changed my mind and no longer want to talk with you” would have been much less of a psychological blow than this awkward attempt to shift the blame onto me. But it did force me to cope with the rejection, hence this article.

If you’ve reached out to someone and been rejected like this, the best advice I can give is not to take it personally. Remember that whoever is socially rejecting you has been socially rejected before as well. Use the experience as motivation to get your voice out there. Don’t let them beat you down. Keep pushing. Keep speaking up. Keep reaching out. If you are confident in your ideas, keep spreading them. Sure, it seems like you’re screaming at a wall sometimes (I often feel like that with #DireEd and its modest readership, but then again, this is my hobby, not my full-time job!). But if you refuse to quit and instead double down, you can amplify your voice and, hopefully, amplify others’, too.

Professor Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.

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