Rejection: done right

I got suckered into a Hacker News piece titled “Rejection” about a kid afraid to jump off the diving board.  After some embarrassment he reluctantly does, but the author questions why the world didn’t congratulate him on his attempt.  Instead girls watching giggle, the kid’s mom smiles and the world goes on.

The world does not congratulate you on mundane unimpressive activities.  That is the responsibility of your mom and friends, but people who are not part of your circle do not have context and therefore no reason to give you props.  Any sort of expectation that you should get some sort of positive reaction from them is naive.

If you grew up inside a sheltered world, one of privilege as I suspect the author did, then the people in your circle who cheer for your every move do so as part of their job and because in some way your success is beneficial to their success.  Any expectation that the world outside of yours works this way is just plain wrong.

Instead, the world cheers for those who achieve impressive acts, ones that transcend the common person and rise above into the top echelons of humanity.  Its those achievements that get world celebration and recognition.

The question posed by the writer is

What would have made Alex, myself and possibly everyone else feel much better about the world at that point. I should have congratulated him in his attempt. I should have walked over to him as he got out of the pool, stuck up my hand for a high-five, and said “good job! now go do it again”, with a big sincere smile on my face.

But I didn’t. I didn’t even think about it, but next time, I will.

The world does not need a lowering of the bar so that more people get congratulated for doing mundane things like jumping into a pool.  What we need instead are people with drive determined to continue to climb until they finally do something worthy of recognition.  Alex should take his lesson that jumping from the diving board didn’t illicit any sort of cheering and either learn to dive and possibly compete, quit diving all together, or be satisfied with the world not noticing how poorly he jumps off a diving board.

Published by joshkerr

Josh is an 8x startup founder and angel investor.

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7 Comments

  1. Copied from my HN response, hope that’s okay:

    Perhaps I am sheltered, it’s hard for me to say, but I’d estimate my views on reality are pretty well average for a white, not-rich, not-poor, twenty-something in Scotland.

    My intention wasn’t to question why everyone didn’t woop and holler at his “mundane achievement”. The point, if any, I was trying to make was more that I, Alex, and perhaps others, can hold ourselves back from doing things we want to do for fear of failure and rejection. And that learning to get over that fear could be beneficial.

    Indeed, if I had any idea that this post was going to end up on Hacker News, rather than just as an unread scrawl on my blog, written over coffee on a Monday morning, perhaps I wouldn’t have had the guts to write it at all.

    The closing thought about the high-five was less a question to the world, and more a thought to myself that had I been the one diving off the board, worrying about being rejected (consciously or subconsciously), that it would have been pretty awesome to 16-year old me if some random dude had given me a high-five.

    It’s entirely possible though that poor writing and or structure didn’t do a good job of conveying my points. Next time I’ll spend a bit more time planning 🙂

  2. I’m in no way a supporter of those corny, American happy families who seem to ‘whoop’ and cheer every time someone does anything, but there is no harm in offering someone a kind word for their efforts. Perhaps that little ‘Good job, mate’ would have provided Alex with a kick to strive and push himself to become a better diver.

    Again, not saying that Alex would deserve credit every time he jumped but anyone overcoming genuine fear is it’s a great achievement.

  3. Absolutely. This is the whole “watch me” parent/child thing. Watch me jump on the trampoline. Watch me play this game. Then congratulate me even if I’m terrible. Maybe we should all get trophies for breathing.

    1. Isn’t it better to teach your child to enjoy the personal benefits of conquering fear without needing external congratulations from a parent?

  4. What is “mundane achievement” to the outside world can be a “gut-wrenching challenge” to the individual facing it. As usual, there are two sides to this story and it depends on where your standing as to what an acceptable response could have been.

    It would have been a beneficial ego boost if some random guy had recognized the personal achievement for what it was, a conquering of a personal fear, and offered words of encouragement. The world is not required to do so, but it would have been an acceptable response.

    At the same time, jumping from a diving board is not going to put a man on the moon or millions in your pocket. So whatever, kid. The world is not required to applaud you, and it is acceptable if it does not.

    The biggest lesson in this story: it really on matters what you think of yourself.

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