Full text of Darryll Stinson’s talk: Overcoming Rejection, When People Hurt You & Life Isn’t Fair at TEDxWileyCollege conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Darryll Stinson – Mental Health Advocate
Rejection. Do you remember the last time you felt rejected? Was it a guy that never returned a phone call? Or a father that never came around?
Was it a boss who overlooked you for a promotion? Or maybe it was someone in your life who never thought you were good enough, no matter what you did to try to impress them.
We all know rejection hurts. It stings. It makes us feel like we’re not good enough. It causes us to question ourselves and doubt our future. I submit to you that rejection isn’t something we should be afraid of. And it sure isn’t something that should make us get discouraged, depressed, or work unhealthy amounts of hours just to prove to the world that we are somebody worth loving and paying attention to.
Rather, rejection is our friend and not our enemy. I’m going to share two ways that we can see rejection in order to leverage those moments of pain to be the greatest catalyst to our success, and proof of our value and uniqueness.
The first way that we can view rejection is by seeing it as projection. A psychological projection. A psychological projection is when someone subconsciously employs undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else rather than admitting to or dealing with their own unwanted feelings.
When we can see how the rejections we face may have more to do with another person’s inward turmoil and not our own value, our lives will change. Rather than shrink back, get discouraged, or play it safe, we’ll move forward in life with confidence and high esteem.
One of my most painful moments of rejection happened when I was in the third grade. I wanted to be popular, to be liked, to be loved, and to be respected. And thankfully, I was. I was in an advanced learning class which meant that I was one of two Black students in an all-white class. And this wasn’t a bad thing. I was known as the cool, big, Black kid. They called me Goon.
I was one of the smartest kids in the class, people cheated off my test, they laughed at my jokes, life was great. Until one day, as I was returning back to class from a bathroom break, I noticed a group of Black students circled together laughing hysterically. Me, being the confident, charismatic, outgoing guy that I was, I decided I was going to go over to them and get in on the jokes.
So I walked over to these students, and I said, “Hey y’all, what’s so funny?” No one answered. I spoke up. “Now, what y’all over there laughing about?” And just as I was finishing my sentence, one of the guys in the group turned towards me and said, “You’re what’s funny, white boy.” The crowd erupted in laughter, and I, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and rejected, returned to my class to soon learn that I was known in our school as the Black kid that talks and acts white.
I allowed that moment of rejection to diminish my confidence and my self-esteem. Rather than celebrate my own uniqueness, I began a long journey of changing who I was to fit in with this Black community. I mean, I changed the way that I dressed, the way that I talked, the music I listened to. I even changed the way that I laughed.
I started skipping school, selling drugs, and making poor decisions, all because I wanted to gain their approval and their acceptance. And you know what? It worked. They accepted me. They embraced me. I got street cred.
But deep down inside, I knew it wasn’t me who they accepted. It was who I was pretending to be. And the more they adored this false version of me, the more rejected the real me felt the entire time.
You see, I didn’t understand that sometimes rejection is projection. A projection of someone’s own fears and insecurities onto another person. Those students who made fun of me were deeply insecure. They were unsure of themselves. They were afraid to do anything outside of what their peers thought was acceptable.
And because they didn’t know how to be their unique selves, they projected their fears and insecurities onto me in the form of mockery and jokes. Because sometimes, talking bad about others makes people feel better about themselves.
If I would’ve been able to see their rejection as projection, I would’ve never taken their jokes personally. I wouldn’t have wasted years of my life trying to earn their approval and their acceptance. I would’ve stayed true to who I was, and I probably would’ve felt more sorry for them than I was for myself.
And I believe that properly handling rejection is a crucial component to ending the rising anxiety, depression, and suicide rates in our nation and world. In fact, one study from the Oxford Handbook of Social Exclusions stated that rejection is both a cause and a consequence of depression.
I mean think about it. Have you ever felt down after you got rejected? Maybe it was a group of co-workers who invited everyone out for drinks after work except for you.
Or what about people who won’t invest their money into your vision and dream? Those are situations that cause people to dislike themselves, give up, gain a ton of weight from emotional eating, and binge-watch Netflix.
But I’ve learned that we don’t have to allow rejection to make us do that crazy stuff. We can leverage our moments of rejections to produce confidence and success. I did.
Once I discovered that the rejection I faced in the third grade was actually a projection of those students’ own issues, I was able to see the beauty in my own difference.
Honestly, they had something right about me. I was the Black kid that talked and acted white. And I still am. Being the Black kid that talks and acts white has enabled me to be versatile as a speaker and work with people from all different walks of life. I can speak to gang members in the street, and I can speak to executives in the board room. I can help addicts live free from addiction, and I can coach elite athletes to discover their purpose beyond sports.
The very thing that made them reject me has become a crucial component to my success. It has made me effective at helping others, and it’s all because I learned to see rejection as projection, and figured out how to use it for my good.
The second way that we can see rejection is by viewing it as protection. Protection from something or someone that isn’t meant to be in our lives anymore. I learned this lesson after life rejected my dreams of playing in the NFL.
I went to Central Michigan University on a full-ride scholarship to play Division I football. Sports was the way that I was going to become rich and famous, so that I could buy my parents a house and get all of my family out of poverty.
I had so many coaches and players who told me that because of my height, my speed, and my athleticism, that there was no doubt that I would one day play in the NFL. Unfortunately, I ruptured a disc in my back my freshman year, and this injury ended my college career. Life had rejected all that hard work I put in.