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.
Rather than view my sports injury as protection from a career path that wasn’t the best for me, I took it personal. I felt like life hated me and spit in my face. I felt like the universe despised me and that my value was pretty much nothing without the sport that I loved or the recognition that I got from being an athlete.
Rather than let sports go, I did something terrible in an attempt to keep my athlete dreams alive. I signed a liability waiver and rehabilitated my body to once again play Division I football.
I put my body through two years of drug addiction, pain, and sleepless nights, because I couldn’t face life on life’s terms. No matter how many painkillers I took, or how many epidural shots I got in my back, I couldn’t avoid the reality that my career was finished. Nothing I did to avoid that rejection was working.
I was so afraid to face rejection because I felt like it meant that I had no value and no future. I figured that since life completely rejected me and all the hard work that I put in to become a professional athlete, that I didn’t just fail, but rather, that I was a failure.
This belief that I was a failure drove me into one of the darkest depressions of my life. I became suicidal because I thought it would be better to end my life than to deal with another painful moment of rejection. And so I would swallow whole bottles of pills in hopes that I wouldn’t wake up the next day.
I would get drunk and take a bunch of drugs and get in the car and drive hoping that a car accident would end it all. It got so bad that I tried to starve myself, and I went from 275 pounds to 219 pounds in four weeks. That’s all because I didn’t understand how to handle rejection. All these attempts at suicide landed me in the psychiatric unit in Detroit, Michigan.
And it was there that I had a life-changing experience that gave me hope, and purpose, and helped me to believe that maybe the rejection I was experiencing was protection from a future that wasn’t the best for me. And that maybe there was a career and a life out there for me that was far better than what I had envisioned.
So I spent the next few years researching everything I could find on purpose and meaning. I read books. I took online courses. I interviewed people. I prayed. I meditated. I even watched a bunch of TEDx talks. I started to develop new skills and explore new interests.
You know what? Over time, I built a life that I loved and even enjoyed more than my life as an athlete. And I would’ve never been able to do that if it wasn’t for life completely rejecting, or should I say, protecting me, from becoming a professional athlete.
And I believe that the world needs to have the same perspective shift that I had when I was in the psychiatric unit. Rather than internalize rejection to mean that we’re less valuable or that our future is unsure, we should view it as protection from something or someone that isn’t meant to be in our lives anymore.
Imagine what would happen if we stopped viewing rejection as a negative, humiliating force, and we started viewing rejection as a necessary development tool and a catalyst for massive success.
When I look at people who I admire that have been highly successful in life, I can’t help but to notice how they’ve overcome rejections they face. It causes me to wonder if they would’ve ever become who they were if it wasn’t for how they leveraged their moments of rejection.
I mean, I wonder if Martin Luther King Jr. would’ve ever become a great leader if it wasn’t for the rejection he experienced from his message and his mission. I wonder if Michael Jordan would’ve ever developed the drive to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if it wasn’t for being rejected by his coach in high school.
I wonder if Apple would be one of the largest tech companies in the world if it wasn’t for Steve Jobs being rejected by his own company.
More importantly though, I wonder what your life would look like if you went back to your moments of rejection, and rather than cry, get angry, or bitter, you analyze those moments, and reframe them as protection or projection. I wonder if buried beneath your pain and unfortunate circumstances is treasure that you could cash in.
I wonder if you’d find keys that would unlock new paths in life that are far beyond what you can think or imagine. I wonder if the next level of your success is locked beneath your most painful moment of rejection.
I started by asking you when was the last time you felt rejected? Was it a boss? An ex-spouse? A parent? A friend? Or just bad luck? And I’ll end by asking you, “What are you going to do with it?”
Thank you. You’ve been awesome.