Add to that the fact that I no longer asked just anyone and everyone to dance but I focused my efforts on asking people that seemed equally enthusiastic about getting on the dance floor.
Well, you can guess, I ended up getting a lot more yeses. And this whole experience helped me redefine success as not just including the yes but also including this learning process. And these two tools that I used, learning from it and not taking it personally, were invaluable not only in my dance life but also in my personal and professional life in dealing with rejection.
But there’s a flipside. Clearly if someone is receiving a rejection, someone is dishing it out. And I’m not sure about all of you but as hard as it is for me to hear the word NO, it’s always been much harder for me to tell someone NO, because if saying No hurts, then I’m responsible for hurting someone.
And since hurting someone isn’t socially acceptable, I always had this feeling that rejecting someone wasn’t either. Unfortunately, we live in this world where being agreeable is praised over being objectionable, where sacrificing your wants and desires are held in higher regard than standing up for them.
Where when I say yes, people call me a sweetheart. And when I say no people call me a bitch. We feel entitled when asking and obliged when asked. In my dance community it’s no different.
In fact, there’s this unspoken expectation that if someone works up the courage and asks you to dance, you better honor it and say yes no matter what, because rejecting them would have a negative impact on them.
Sure when I was doing all the asking, couldn’t agree more. But when I improved and started being asked more often, I realized that saying yes could also have a negative impact. So I had to learn how and when it was important to say NO.
Unfortunately, my lesson came in the form of an injury. For a little bit of background information, my reputation in my dance community is one of this kind and sweet energizer bunny who dances all night with everyone and almost never says NO. But then I got injured, sprained ankle, and broke my toe twice on the same foot.
And despite the pain, my fear of losing my reputation outweighed any respect I had for my body. It was only after three years of being at sub-optimal health that I realized if I didn’t learn how to say NO and take care of myself, I could cause permanent damage to my body.
So finally learning how to say NO helped me recover and get back into dance full force. So obviously this was a case where my rejection was a benefit to me.
But there are plenty of occasions in dance where my rejection was also a benefit to someone else. As I mentioned before, salsa dancing is a social dance, which involves a lot of asking. And sure there were times when I was on the fence when asked, but once I said yes I ended up having a great time.
But there were also times when I really didn’t want to dance with the person that asked me. And whatever the reason when I caved and I said yes, I ended up causing more harm than good, because my heart and my mind were elsewhere. I was distracted. Sometimes I was even annoyed and resentful for feeling like I got sucked into doing something I didn’t want to do.
I might have been smiling but it wasn’t genuine. And I’m sure my body language revealed that by avoiding eye contact, easily irritated, dismissive of my partner’s enjoyment, and just not participating wholeheartedly.
I treated my partner like a chore that I couldn’t wait to finish. I know that sounds harsh but it’s the truth, and I’d like to think that I’m a great person once you get to know me. But if that five-minute introduction was all you had, I doubt you’d want to spend another minute in my presence. At least that’s how I felt when I danced with someone like that.
So these days if I feel I can’t be a 100% present I’d rather say NO, because my partner deserves better than that.
Now these are examples in dance but there are plenty of moments like this in life as well.
Think about the time that you weren’t feeling well and you didn’t want to go out and your friends begged you to come out and you said yes. Were you miserable and complaining even if it was to yourself? Did you end up feeling worse the next day, because you should have stayed home and rested?
I know it’s hard to say NO especially to those people that are close to us, but if we can’t be our best, then why are we ruining their day also?
Or how about that time you said yes to a second date with that person that you had zero interest in, because you didn’t want to be mean? Was it nicer to get their hopes up unnecessarily? Did you think that they wanted to spend their valuable time planning a special dinner only to have you sit there for two hours revealing your lack of interest with your short replies and your frequent glances at your cellphone?
If a five-minute dance can have such an impact on us, what do you think the impact of a two-hour dinner would be?
Now when we look at things this way, meaning when we look at the consequences of our words and our actions, I hope we can start to see where our responsibility lies in all of it, and why it’s important to say NO sometimes.
Our definition of rejection makes us think that we’re delivering an insult when we say NO. So I understand why there is hesitancy but we can see that it can also come from a place of respect and consideration.
Think of the examples I just mentioned. Would you rather receive an honest two-second NO or spend hours or more in the presence of a dishonest yes?
Not sure about all of you but painful as it may be I would prefer the honesty. An honesty is important, it’s crucial, but the actual line between respect and insults lies in the delivery. And the key to a good delivery is empathy.