“What’s your biggest fear?” she said. And, the way she asked it with half a smile made me run through some common answers, like she expected something tangible: snakes, heights, darkness – any of the above would have been enough to start (and end) the conversation quickly.

But, I said, “Probably rejection.” Honestly, if anyone said they didn’t fear it, I’d think he was either lying or dumb. It’s everywhere – or at the least the possibility to feel it is everywhere – and half of our lives are spent carefully considering when to invite it and when to slam the door in its face.

Though I’m starting to shift in the other direction, I think I’m more inclined to do the latter – to build up walls against that feeling of inadequacy because who wouldn’t? Why would anyone be attracted to something that could put a dent in that perfect self-image or tarnish the idea that maybe we aren’t all we’re cracked up to be? Because, until we’re proven otherwise, we can believe what we want, and our self-esteem can remain intact (for now). But, like I said, I’m starting to understand rejection like that cold, honest friend who won’t ever censor himself – that critic who keeps you grounded, uncomfortable, and constantly striving.

In reality, rejection is just a tool of self-evaluation – something we can use to know if we’re better than we were yesterday, a defense against platitudes of blissful ignorance that knock us down, scuff us up, and deflate our heads. It’s a necessity if we ever hope to accomplish anything because rejection inevitably follows opportunity like shadow. You can’t have one without at least the possibility of the other. And, in this day and age – where all that really matters is others’ perceptions of who we are, rejection (and equally, opportunity) is often avoided at all costs, and instead of looking beyond our comfort zones, we stay inside them – searching for validation, living comfortably in a quicksand of untested security.

I guess we never doubt ourselves because we never really have to. We never ask questions like, “Is this enough?” or “Am I where I am because this is how it’s always been or because I’m too afraid of reaching for something better?” And, if we do get to that point of asking ourselves the big questions, rarely will we answer them, and even more rarely will we act on those answers. “I don’t know,” we’ll say – and build up an armor of vague, unfinished circumstances, maybe look to our phones for a distraction.  We never face ourselves because rejection could be lying in wait – ready to strike like a poison. And, if we never face ourselves, we never change, we never grow – we never really get to the core of anything, just pilot through life on cruise control. So, is the fear of rejection – that fear of being told, “No, you’re just not good enough,” – really anything more than a fear of ourselves?

"Yeah, probably rejection," I confirmed after a pause.

"Oh, that's interesting," she said with a bit of hesitation.

She took a bite of her food, and we kept living as we always had.