When I was an eager young advertising sales exec working in newspapers in London I was trained to ask prospective clients what were called "open-ended questions". This technique would give me information on their business in order to fully understand their advertising needs and - da-dah! - sell them an ad.
Open-ended questions start with how, why, what, where, when. Stuff like "Where do your best customers come from? What was your most successful advertising campaign?" It's the foundation technique for sales; start with open-ended questions then, as the conversation progresses, narrow it down towards a sale with closed questions which can only be answered with a yes/no response (hopefully), "Do you want an ad?" "Yes, I do".
I had forgotten this gem of ancient sales wisdom until I had a run of clients who had all experienced some form of rejection - from the mummy mafia, a prospective business partner, a romantic interest and from classmates. They were all very upset, and really stuck in their upset. They just couldn't figure it out. Why, why, why would someone treat them this way when all they had shown was kindness/friendship/shared business knowledge/love/support?
Over and over they turned it in their minds, wrestling with the rejection; the sudden cruel "didn't see it coming" rejection. They were all very miserable indeed.
For most the rejection had actually happened years and years ago, but yet it was still as fresh as yesterday because they still hadn't figured out the "why". Trying to figure out why had become a habit of thought, why why why has this thing happened to me?
Here's the thing. This endless questioning of the past "Why did he/they/she reject me when I didn't do anything wrong? What did I do to be treated this way? How long will this rejection last?" etc, are all open ended questions, but asking them of ourselves can only mean we go round in circles.
There is no satisfactory answer because we don't have it.
Asking these questions in our own mind endlessly compounds the question and just makes us miserable.
I have had my share of rejections, including one last year that just floored me. I could not believe that I was being rejected so comprehensively having given and offered so much. I could barely sleep for the incessant turning it over in my mind.
However, that way madness lies. I call it Chasing The Why, and it can be a surefire route to misery.
Here's the thing. We live in a society where science and technology are king and every drama on TV eventually shows us whodunit. We always get to figure out the why. Which is comforting and neat. But in real life, dealing with people, not machines, it's just not so neat. Sometimes, newsflash, you will never know why!
Because the person who has rejected you won't tell you, or because they don't even really fully understand why they did it themselves. No, it's not neat, and the open-endedness is very frustrating, but that is reality. Sometimes we just never get to know why.
So instead of chasing what we don't know ("Why doesn't she like me anymore? Why hasn't he invited me? Why did he leave me") attention and energy is better turned to what we DO actually know. She has chosen to spend time elsewhere. He has chosen to leave. She has chosen a different opportunity.
And you know what? It is that person's right to choose - however hurtful/frustrating/inexplicable that may be. They had the option to choose us, and they didn't. That's a fact. It's a closed question. "Did they choose you?" No.
Okay well, that might suck, but it's a fact. So, stop chasing the why because if you haven't figured it out by now, it's just not figure-outable. It's a fact. They chose a different option. It wasn't you. End of story.
So, now you get to choose a different option. Choose to move on, choose not to have your rejection button pushed daily by removing them from your Facebook feed or your phone or whatever, and focus your attention on what you DO have in your life, and what you want more of.
Rejection is hard. But it's also a part of life. In sales we were trained that rejection is a perversely good thing . . . for every person that said no we were one step closer to someone saying yes. Learning if not to welcome rejection but just to see it as part of the road to success was a key part of every good sales exec's mindset.
And so it is in life. Reframing your rejection as something that paves the way to closer, better friendships, business partnerships, loves, opportunities is smart.
Learn what you can from it and then let it go. Chasing the why is a waste of energy. Accept a choice has been made. Grieve what could have been and move on. Stop chasing the why, and start choosing what you want instead.
Figure out what you are not letting go of. An old rejection that niggles away at the back of your mind. Make a note and then know that maybe you will never know why, and that's okay. You know a choice has been made and you know what - that's enough. Move the hell on! Put your energy and focus forward rather than being stuck in the past chasing a why you may never get.
Louise Thompson is a life coach, yoga teacher and corporate escapee. For more from Louise visit positivebalance.co.nz.