It’s not you, it’s your shoes: Considering the pain of personal rejection

Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between personal rejection and not making  the right connection — the right shidduch, you might say. There definitely is a difference, though. Sometimes relationships just don’t work out, although there was no fault by either party. Of course there are exceptions, but for the sake of this argument, I’m going to go with situations wherein a relationship simply doesn’t work out.

I heard someone recently reflect on this idea, in reference to any type of relationship, saying how clicking socially with another person is kind of like trying on a new pair of shoes. Sometimes the shoes are to a person’s liking, and sometimes they don’t fit the bill. It’s no reflection on the shoes themselves, or on any kind of objective sense of beauty. There is no objective sense of beauty. It’s all subjective. One person’s trash is another one’s treasure. Not to compare shoes, or better yet a person, to trash — even though I kind of am making that comparison But my point is that it’s all a matter of being the right fit for you. A more popular trend may not be to your own liking. Likewise, the right fit for you is not always the right fit for everyone.

The same is true of finding a job. You may be a candidate who doesn’t end up getting the position, or you may be someone not chosen as a candidate at all. This isn’t a reflection of your inner being. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s not personal. It simply means that you’re not the right fit for the job. Yes, of course, the rejection may feel like a one-two punch to the stomach, and yes, of course, it’s incredibly frustrating when you’re on a job hunt that seems to be going nowhere. But amid all of that, it’s important to remember throughout not to take it personally. It’s not about you, per se. It’s about the fit. Unless, that is, they’re rejecting you because of your shoes, which may be fine-looking shoes under any other standard of dress. That, I would consider personal.

So not taking things personally — it’s so much easier said than done. I’m trying to remember this every time I get a rejection response from a literary agent regarding my submissions. They often phrase it like this: while it’s an interesting premise, nice writing, blah blah blah, “it’s just not the right fit for us.” That’s all well and good, and I know it’s a tough business out there, but a rejection is a rejection no matter how nicely it’s phrased. And so I have to continue with the mantra I’ve been preaching right here, to not take it personally. (Selfish side note, if anyone out there has connections to an agent, feel free to send them my way…).

So then what things might we take personally? I guess it depends on the details. If you discover that the reason your date doesn’t click with you is because he or she thinks you lack good looks or are too low on the social status totem pole, then yes, maybe take that personally. If you find out that someone wants nothing to do with you socially because of a disability, then yes, I’d take that personally. But on the other hand, how are you to know that these are the reasons for the rejection (unless you are told as much) and that it’s not simply a case of not being the right fit in terms of personality? And if you don’t get the job, how are you to know that it really doesn’t have to do with your shoes, even if that’s a ridiculous reason not to accept someone for a position — unless, say, you’re wearing sneakers to an interview, which would in most cases be inappropriate. It would be a sign to an employer that you’re not cut out for the job. But more realistically, how do you know that the company isn’t taking you on because you’re female or a minority, rather than because you’re not the right person for the position? Yes, such discrimination may be illegal, but how are you to know?

I guess a person can make him or herself go crazy (and I use that term very loosely) trying to understand the why-WHY-WHY???!! when faced with rejection. One exception, I would say, is religious discrimination. Whether you are rejected personally for your choice of observance or whether an entire religious demographic is rejected, when it has to do with such prejudice, it hits the core of a person. Thus, I believe, it is entirely personal.

Due to its timely nature — it was marked the other Sunday — let’s take Tisha B’Av and the events that are associated with it. The destruction of both Temples: personal. Religious persecution in the hands of the Babylonians: personal. Religious persecution at the hands of the Romans: personal. The expulsion of Jews from England: personal. The expulsion of Jews from France: personal. The expulsion of Jews from Spain: personal. Approval of the “Final Solution” and the other events of the Holocaust: personal.

Rejection is difficult, but I think it’s important to put things into perspective, especially while we are still remembering Tisha B’Av so clearly. In this day and age, we are still being rejected as Jews. And while you might argue that it’s a rejection of a people, not a personal rejection, I would say that the rejection of all Jews is a personal rejection of each and every one of us as individuals, just as a rejection of one Jew because of his or her religion equates to a rejection of all Jews. And that, as I see it, is entirely personal.

Still, just because common-day scenarios of rejection may not be as weighted as anti-Semitism, and may really not be meant to be taken personally like religious persecution, that doesn’t belittle the fact that such scenarios do exist. While the idea of being rejected as Jews seems to put other forms of rejection into perspective, it definitely does not negate them.

Being rejected is a hard pill to swallow, no matter how you cut it. It’s sometimes difficult to internalize the fact that — most of the time — it isn’t about you, specifically. Whether you’re job hunting, pitching your book, pitching yourself, or shopping, it’s important to realize that, very simply, sometimes the shoe just doesn’t fit.

About the Author
Dena Croog is a writer and editor in Teaneck, New Jersey, whose work has focused primarily on psychiatry, mental health, and the book publishing industry. She is the founder of Refa’enu, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mood disorder awareness and support. More information about the organization and its support groups can be found at You also can email with any questions or comments.