Rejection could be a real bummer for most of us, until we figure out it doesn’t have to be. For those of us who’ve been watching ABC’s Shark Tank – or its Canadian twin, Dragon’s Den – the statement “for that reason I’m out” is all too familiar. I would guess it is one of the most widely broadcast statements in the history of electronic media in North America, after may be “you’re fired.”
As soon as the pitch ends, almost everyone is sure to get a “no” from at least one of the Sharks right off the bat. Some aspirants are out of luck to the extent of being yelled at by Kevin right in middle of the pitch. The fact that the statement is so common points to the uneasy reality of life; it is impossible to completely avoid rejection. I’m afraid that’s the way life works.
But then, the good news is, rejection is a sign of progress. It helps you uncover areas of personal growth you never focused on. The best way to make sure you don’t ever hear the statement “I’m out” from a Shark again is to never turn the television on, and of course to never have the thought of participating in the show. Likewise, the best way to avoid rejection is to not do anything in life. But since you are on LinkedIn reading this post right now, I’m pretty sure doing nothing is not what wakes you up in the morning. Well, you can read on.
While rejections cannot be avoided, there are ways to make the aftermath of rejections less of a heartache, and in fact use it to your advantage.
1. Take some downtime
Immediately after a rejection, people generally start mulling over it and continue doing that for days. They tend to feel an urge to pity themselves during that grieving period and end up bruising their self-worth. Realize that during this critical time, you are running the risk of losing your sense of purpose. Your impulse reaction is to give up on the idea for good and never to take a chance again. Beware of this natural reaction to rejection. The best way to avoid drowning into a slumber of weariness is to take some downtime at the earliest. That doesn’t mean you sit idle at home. Quite the opposite; occupy yourself with something fun. Move away from the things that remind you of the negative experience, physically. Take a road trip; get your mind away from what caused your negative reaction. Binge on your favorite dessert. Recoup your verve and re-energize your spirit. You’ll need it soon.
2. Talk to a trusted friend
When you get back to your normal routine and just before you start feeling miserable again, find a trusted friend to talk to. Make sure he or she is someone who has a positive frame of mind. Negativity is the last thing you’d want more of. Let your friend provide constructive feedback; even positive criticism. The reason why hearing objective criticism from a trusted friend works is because you know he or she is not judging you. At the same time your attention is diverted to finding areas of improvement in your strategy rather than to find more people to blame. Internal attribution of failure at this stage is of vital importance. You have to take responsibility of what went wrong before you could figure out how to fix it. More on that in the last point.
3. Know that rejection represents progression
It is absolutely fine to think of rejection as a form of failure. But we need to rethink our attitude towards failure. The first thing is to be aware of the fact that failure is inevitable. Not only that, the number of times you fail is directly proportionate to the attempts you make and the chances you take. Most successful people have failed a number of times before they achieved their first big success. Throughout human history, the story of success is punctuated with failures, big and small.
It is important to think of rejection as progression and not regression. It is like walking on a rocky road toward your destination. Every time you hit a rock, you in fact move closer to your destination. There is no guarantee that there wouldn’t be any more rocks on the way, but it is important to get up, brush the dust off and continue your forward progression after stumbling on every rock. Just let go and move on. Rejection is progression also because every time you get rejection, you learn what does not work. As Thomas A. Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
4. Don’t take it personally
The toughest part about dealing with rejection is that you feel your self-esteem crashing down to the floor the moment you hear no. It is a bigger disappointment when you expected to hear yes and worked really hard to deserve it. You can not help but think of yourself as inadequate and unable to achieve success.
Let’s be real. Unless you had a century-old family feud with the person who said no to you, the rejection is not a reflection of a person’s absolute judgement about you. They rejected your proposal or request, not you. It is important to separate yourself from the subject matter. In the business world, you would rarely ever find yourself in a situation where addressing the cause of rejection is beyond your control. The reason for rejection is often a misalignment between two people’s priorities. When a Shark says “I’m out” to an aspiring entrepreneur, he or she is in fact saying “my objectives don’t align with yours.” The funny thing is that quite often all Sharks have different reasons for saying no. Each Shark’s reason points to why he or she thinks their objectives don’t align with the presenter’s objectives. It’s never personal.
5. Think of rejections as a way to challenge yourself
Rejections challenge you, and challenges keep your life interesting. In Cassandra Clare’s book, City of Bones, Clary says to Jace, “have you fallen in love with the wrong person yet?” “Unfortunately, Lady of the Haven,” she replies “my one true love remains myself.” “At least,” Clary says, “you don’t have to worry about rejection, Jace Wayland.” “Not necessarily. I turn myself down occasionally, just to keep it interesting.”
If you have the habit of hearing yes, after a while you tend to lose the spirit of inquiry. Your desire to take up new challenges wanes and with that, your growth halts. Rejection pushes you out of your comfort zone and keeps you from settling for mediocrity. Accepting the challenge that comes with rejection prepares you to knock it out of the park the next time you take a stab at the same thing.
6. Use it as an opportunity to unlearn and relearn
After some time has passed and the effect of the bad trip is behind you, you need to get objectively analytical. Think of why you faced rejection. Reflect on what exactly went wrong and how you can fix it. Perhaps all you need is to be more flexible and change your strategy rather than addressing a real deficiency. It could also be just a bad presentation of your ideas, a misunderstanding of common values, or an inaccurate identification of the need. Whatever it is, don’t be fixated on repeating what didn’t work. Think it through and try to approach the problem differently, all the while focusing on your strengths. In that sense rejection is truly a blessing in disguise as it helps you learn empirically from your experience.
7. Convince yourself that it happened for a greater reason
In the short-run, there’s no way to know for sure that the rejection would eventually lead you to a greater good. But convincing yourself that it would, can help you manage the aftermath of rejection and come out on top. This reminds me of an oft-quoted anecdote. A little girl was holding two apples in her hands. Her mother gently asked her with a smile, “my sweetie, could you give your mum one of your two apples?” The girl looked up at her mother for some seconds, then she suddenly took a quick bite on one apple, and then quickly on the other. The mother felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard not to reveal her disappointment. Then the little girl handed one of her bitten apples to her mother and said, “mummy, here you are. This is the sweeter one.”
In life, what appears to be a rejection or failure is nature’s way of saying, “wait, you deserve better than this.” It is wise to think of rejections as opportunities to prepare for bigger successes.
8. Learn to regulate your expectations
It is great to be optimistic. It helps you bring out the best in you. At the same time however, it makes equally good sense to keep your expectations just low enough to feel adequately challenged and to push yourself to put the best foot forward. Having realistic expectations will force you to prepare your best and increase your chances of success. But even if you eventually face rejection, your low expectations will help you bear the brunt. Know that what you are attempting to achieve has an element of outstretch to it and hence you need to give it your best shot. Beware however that keeping your expectations too low will drain you of your motivation to try your best. A fine balance between optimism and realism is the key. Be ready to do your best but also to handle the worst.
9. Understand your locus of control
Your locus of control is the degree to which you believe that you have control over the events that affect you. People with strong internal locus of control believe they can control their life while those with external locus of control believe their life is controlled by the decisions and actions of others and they have limited or no influence on those factors.
In the face of rejection, people with external locus of control lose their self-esteem and tend to undermine their strengths. They doubt their abilities and give up the power to control their own actions as well as the consequences of those actions. It is absolutely vital to be aware of your own locus of control and to understand that an external locus could push you into a downward spiral which would tarnish your self-esteem over the long run. At the same time, it is important to understand that while you can make your best efforts and put your strengths to best use, it is not in your control to dictate how people would feel and react.
Your best bet is to focus on what you can do to improve your chances of success and avoid rejection. Control your actions, behaviors and attitudes, and empower yourself to influence the outcome to a reasonable degree.
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