How many times have you received the thumbs down? How did it feel?

Me, I have already lost count of the times I felt the sting of rejection. There is not a single year for the last four decades that I have not experienced being turned down and consequently, being disappointed.
My first taste of rejection was on my first grade in primary school
The memory is still as vivid as if it were only yesterday.

My friends and I auditioned for an amateur singing contest for our level. Five of us trooped to the shabby classroom to showcase our singing prowess. I was giddy with excitement when we queued and waited for our turn. Days before, I had been rehearsing all by myself inside our toilet which happened to be located outside our wooden house. I chose a Tagalog song with an upbeat tempo so I could sway and gesticulate to add flavor to my performance. It had to be “entertainment” level so I did not leave anything to chance. (My self-taught choreography, though, was but an imitation of what a favorite singer at school had been doing in her onstage performances.)

Then one by one, my friends were called and sang their hearts out with all the bravado they could muster. I could see that the members of the selection team were pleased if not delighted with my friends’ vocal calisthenics. Not surprisingly, they also sang Tagalog songs. BFF belted Celeste Legaspi’s Mamang Sorbetero. Curly-haired J sang “Lolo Jose.” Chubby-cheeked T, who was always in pig tails, crooned “O, Tukso, Layuan mo Ako”—a song about temptation and infidelity.

When my name was called, I unabashedly gave the best performance of my life as though my future depended on it—swaying my hips here and there like a hula hoop babe all the while belting out ‘Despatsadora” with a matching snooty countenance. My confidence was at an all-time high as my voice reverberated through the walls of the audition room and broke through the ceiling.

I could not have been prouder of my performance.

And then the verdict came.

Among the five of us who auditioned, I was the only one who went home empty-handed and teary-eyed. Having failed to make it onstage, I ended up in the sea of spectators during the actual contest, all the while green with envy that my friends had the time of their lives singing with a real microphone while I watched them with clinched teeth. My young mind could not fully grasp the fact that I had already lost even before the actual competition commenced. And while I did not easily give up showing up in auditions for vocal solo contests after this episode, I eventually threw in the towel when I reached grade 5, after being given again a thumbs down by no less than the priest-conductor, when I auditioned as a choir member in a church choral group.

I was turning 12 at that time, old enough to realize that if a priest had not had the grace to give my singing prowess a chance, then it was about time I set my ambitious sight on something else. I retreated to devouring printed materials— books, komiks and paperbacks. I spent a great deal of time listening to radio soap operas until my imagination got so worked up, I started doing monologues, first in secret, then eventually, in school events. My shift from singing to acting somehow assuaged my frustrations that I could no longer fulfill my dream to be in a musical play or be a concert diva. But I have since felt the needle pricks especially when I hear comments how we Filipinos are praised for our musical talent in the global stage. I am one of the few exceptions with an empty basket in this area.

Another time I experienced the pain of rejection was when my Grade 5 teacher pulled me out of a folk dance group after having been initially selected. According to her, I was too tall for my dance partner and we looked awkward together. That was a hard blow to me. She could have told me I sucked in dancing as much as I did in singing. I wailed, I stumped, I cried a river until she relented and allowed me to “dance” despite her initial opposition. We lost the contest and I had an inkling I contributed to that loss. While I seemed to have gotten my way, that episode hurt me because it made me realize I was “dispensable” in dancing. I probably was, because in those days, I was reed thin and a bamboo pole must have been a lot more graceful as it swayed with the wind, than me swaying to the beat of any music.

A lot more frustrations followed – mainly due to losing more than winning in the many contests I joined in – beauty pageants, quiz bees, oratorical contests. I won some, I lost some. But life went on, albeit with a bit heartache which reminded me of the flawed being I was.
The worst rejection happened though when it came to matters of the heart. I was already in college at that time and fell real hard for a classmate who had never even bothered to get to know me. (If he had, our being mere classmates could have blossomed to something else.) I wrote about this rejection in my post almost four years ago and what lessons I learned along the way. Suffice it to say that when it comes to being battered emotionally because of rejections, I consider myself a veteran. I hurt a lot. I wallowed in a pool of insecurity but I refused to get drowned.

Looking back, all those hurts and rejections have immensely contributed to my inward journey. I didn’t like the pain. Who did anyway? But it was necessary for the “flowering of my inner being.” I guess there is no other way toward growth and maturity than to pass through seasons of pruning and purging, perfected only in the crucible of self-emptying.

Blows and wounds scrub away evil,
and beatings purge the inmost being. (Proverbs 20:30)

My friend, the next time, rejection stares you in the face, meet it graciously. Sure, you will be left with a shredded ego. You will hurt for a time. But it has a beautiful, solidifying effect on your character. It will keep you grounded — enough to make you realize you are no superman or woman — that invincibility will never be your middle name, and that you do not have it all. Because it exposes your vulnerability, you cannot afford to wear a mask.

Pretty soon, you will be for real. Like gold refined in the furnace.

And don’t think you can’t bear it. Remember somebody already led the way for us.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
—Isaiah 53:3-5