As a former child actor, I am quite familiar with rejection. A good deal of my childhood was spent driving to audition for roles I’d never get. I would sit in a cramped waiting room surrounded by better looking (and more talented) kids, and wait for just a two minute opportunity to show a casting director there was something special in me. At first the auditions were fun. It was fun to go into the big city, perform fun scripts, and entertain a grand dream of stardom in my head. But they became less fun once the rejection started. Over and over I’d spend my afternoon in the city only to be sent home after a two minute audition without having anything to show for it. Any time there was a role I wanted or thought I was perfect for I’d never get it. It felt like I was being forced to go to battle in a war I could never win.
At some point these rejections started to feel less circumstantial and more indicative of my personal worth. In my mind, I wasn’t being cast because I was ugly and untalented. With every failed audition I’d go on I’d have that negative thinking further reinforced. As a twelve year old, I didn’t have the skills to cope with the feelings of self-hatred and inadequacy that these rejections inflicted upon me, so I started to put less effort into auditioning to spare myself the pain of them. I figured it was better to be apathetic and fail as a result of not caring than it was to invest emotional energy into something that wouldn’t pan out.
Unfortunately, my tendency to self-sabotage is something I’ve carried through to adulthood. Repeatedly and subconsciously, I throw wrenches into my own efforts because I fear the sting of reaching outside my means. Just the other day I self-sabotaged. I was applying for my first post-college job, a position I had been eyeing for months, and I submitted it without double-checking to confirm whether or not I needed to include an important document. My heart sank the moment I discovered I had ruined my chances with my recklessness and stupidity. What made me feel worse was the realization that it was most likely intentional. Odds are that I deliberately sabotaged myself to make what I deemed to be an inevitable rejection more palatable. By failing to include an important document, I I could say my rejection was a result of a dumb error, and not my lack of experience or talent, and in my quest to coddle my self-esteem I fucked up a great opportunity.
Self-sabotage is like a game of tug-of-war between your conscious mind and subconscious mind. It’s wanting something so badly and then going out of your way to make sure you’ll never have it. I sabotage things by telling myself I don’t deserve them. I make poor decisions because I feel as if I should punish myself for whatever reason, and when it comes to jobs I tell myself I am unqualified, or that I should aim lower and settle.And I wish that I could just snap myself out of this kind of thinking, but it’s hard to convince yourself that you’re worthy of something when you’ve dealt with, and internalized, so much rejection in your life. Separating rejection from self-worth is a difficult thing. Not everyone can withstand a constant barrage of it and still convince themselves the effort is worth the blows to their already crippled self-esteem.
Sometimes we self-sabotage because we hate ourselves, or because we take comfort in its familiarity, or because we are afraid of going after what we want. It’s hard to resist engaging in such behavior when the reality is that life is full of rejection and heartache. But what I’m starting to realize is that regret is something more painful than rejection, and while life may be full of failures and disappointments, it is also full of deserved opportunities. You can never rebuild your self-esteem if you refuse to try and go after the things you deserve; in fact, by not trying you’re simply leaving your self-esteem further at risk. What I have realized that is that I don’t want to lose by forfeiting, or never stepping out onto the field. Nor do I want to sit on the sidelines and envy the people who had the guts to chase after their dreams. If I fail I don’t want to take it as a personal offense or internalize it, I want to see it as an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and remind myself of all the things I already have. Chris Dixon once said, “if you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, then you’re goals aren’t ambitious enough.”
It sucks that I blew this opportunity. Fortunately, life’s full of them.