Uninvited: Dealing with Social Exclusion as an Adult

Wednesday, June 5, 2024
Can I tell you a secret?
I'm an adult, but rejection still hurts, just as much as it did when I was a child.
Blogging has been quite an adventure. When I sat down at my computer over 11 years ago to start this little website, I had no idea what I was doing. I took advice from the late, great Carrie Fisher who said, 'Stay afraid, but do it anyway,' a sort of, 'fake it till you make it' kind of mentality. There have been ups and downs, of course, but so many amazing opportunities and experiences that I never could have imagined. I'm proud to say that I'm not faking it anymore. I worked hard to get where I am. But rejection still stings. It stings like a hornet!!

I'm still in awe over the opportunities that I earned as a result of this blog. Whether it was an invite to a travel event, an interview with a celebrity or simply touring the GUND booth at Toy Fair New York (the 8 year-old old me was so proud), sometimes I have to pinch myself because I couldn't believe that I was the one chosen. I am always so grateful when people find value in my work. I strive to be authentic. I put my all into everything that I do, especially my writing. But for all of these ups, there are also plenty of downs.

It's getting harder and harder to compete on social media. Content Creators often gripe about 'the algorithm,' and that's a real thing. If you don't post every day or post what meta wants you to, you'll be pushed to the back burner. Your reels will cap out at a few hundred views. You will not be circulated. Influencers push writers and bloggers aside- who needs you when brands have instant advertising from a pretty young face? Many influencers purchase followers and views, making it seem like they are more popular than they really are, contributing to the cycle of falseness. It's like fighting a battle you can never win. And even if you're not on social media, you might face this conflict in an office, at school, or even with a group of friends. There is always going to be someone who pushes you aside, someone who gets the promotion or the perk or the account you were after, and it's not always fair. It's not always given to the person who worked the hardest or who truly deserves it. How do you get past that feeling of...unfairness? It's not really injustice. Unfair seems like the perfect word to describe it.

When a recent travel event popped up that I had been invited to in the past but was no longer worthy of an invitation, I was crushed. Crushed. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. It felt like the ground dropped out from under me. I started comparing myself to everyone who had been invited - why her? Why him? Why not me? How shallow! I know there are far worse things to be upset about. But this was a blow, and I'm only human.

I told myself that I didn't belong there in the first place, and that's why I was no longer invited. I wasn't good enough, pretty enough or social enough. What made the organizer cross me off the list? What was it that made them look at my name this time and say, 'no, not her,' without a second thought? It was hurtful to think that I was expendable. Should I have worked harder? Laughed louder? Talked more? Talked less? I retraced all of my steps at the last event. Where did I go wrong?

I spoke with my teenage son about this. We were having a discussion about fitting in, and I explained to him what it was like at that event; to look around the room and see famous faces- people from television and beyond. I recognized and admired these people. I was so proud to be there, so honored to be in that room- and now I wasn't allowed in anymore. My teenage son, wise beyond his years, said, 'Well, at least you were in the room.' You know what? He was right. I was in that room! And it sure was a lot of fun. But apparently it's time for me to find a new room, a new space. I have to let go of not being invited. I have to let someone else walk into that room - step aside and open the door for them. Good luck, I'll say, have fun in there, smile and don't be nervous. And most importantly, leave with no expectations. An invitation doesn't always mean you're a friend. What is it that they say? Expectation is the root of all heartache. 

Maybe you've felt this way, too, my unseen reader. Uninvited. Even the word sounds harsh. Maybe it was to a party, or a family event, or a work get-together. Maybe you, too, shrugged it off but later cried in the shower or your car or somewhere no one else could see. 'I'll let it go,' you told yourself. But then at night you couldn't sleep, you replayed everything in your head. It's not so easy to let it go, is it?

I don't have advice or words of wisdom. I wish I did. We're not supposed to let these things bother us at this age. We're supposed to know better by now and let it go. But rejection is rejection. It's never easy, no matter how many times it happens or how old you are. Being uninvited is rejection, plain and simple. There's actually a fancy term for it called 'social exclusion.' And according to new research"social exclusion activates the same regions in your body as physical pain. Those hurt feelings when you're the uninvited may register in the brain just like a scraped knee or a kicked shin. The brain responds to social rejection in the same way it responds to physical pain. The study shows how deeply rooted our need for connectedness is. In some ways, our reaction to rejection is also a protective measure. The physical pain you feel when you grab the handle of a boiling hot pan is a signal to tell you to let go (so you don’t continue to burn yourself). Likewise, the sting of rejection sends a signal that something is wrong with your social well being, and it needs to let go." I just feel like my hand is always stuck to the pan!

But rejection like this is also a way to recognize who does matter in our lives. Perhaps the excluders were not your friends in the first place. They say expectation is the root of all heartache. And that certainly holds true for me, expecting an invitation to this last event. It was my own fault in some ways.

What I'm hoping, though, is that perhaps this rejection is The Universe's Plan (see how I capitalized it?). Maybe there is something better or different out there for you and me, and this is not your path, as much as you want it to be. Madonna recently said, 'Perhaps the most controversial thing I've done is stick around,' and I think I feel that with my entire soul. After being socially excluded, I have a choice (and so do you). We can lie down and shrivel up or we can step up and evolve. That's a great word, isn't it? Say it with me: Evolve. I like it much better than uninvited

I hope you'll stick around and evolve with me. There's more to come. 

photo cred: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Post Playlist: Uninvited by Alanis Morrisette (of course), You Don't Belong Here by Charlie Sexton, I Can Do it With a Broken Heart by Taylor Swift, The Archer by Taylor Swift

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