Rejection pretty much sucks. When you’ve worked really hard at something, and gathered up the courage to show it to somebody else, getting rejected can make you feel like you’ve failed. It can undermine all the effort you put in, and make the whole thing feel like a massive waste of time. Hearing somebody else tell you that your work isn’t good enough feels a lot like having them shout that you’re not good enough – right in your face. It can feel embarrassing, or humiliating, or downright disappointing; it can make you never want to put yourself out there again. Yeah, rejection sucks.
That’s why I set myself a rather unusual challenge this year. Having quit the safety of my job to make it as a writer, I realized I was going to have to get over my crippling fear of rejection, and quickly. So instead of any grand aspirations or unrealistic aims that I’d only beat myself up over, I wrote down just one goal: hear the word “no” at least once a day.
Here’s what I realized: being rejected doesn’t mean you’re not good enough; it means you’re taking risks, pushing yourself, challenging yourself; it means you’re believing in yourself. It turns out rejection isn’t scary at all; what could be scary about the confirmation that you are brave, daring, and confident?
What I learned from hearing “no” is that rejection can actually be a positive experience, if you deal with it right. Here’s how.
It’s a little bit of reverse psychology
Every time you succeed at a goal, you get a rush of dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel good about yourself. This little burst of happiness puts you in a great mood to keep working, other people can pick up on your awesome attitude, and things keep getting better and better for you. Failure has the opposite effect; it can make you too disheartened to do your best work. Making rejection into a challenge cheats the system: every time you hear a “no,” you can get that dopamine burst after all. If you make rejection a sign that you’re working towards something, it helps short-circuit that sad spiral
You take “no” to mean that you’re stretching yourself creatively.
If you know that you have to get some rejections, you’ll need to be a little bit daring. It’s tempting to keep submitting the same old safe work you’re pretty certain your boss will approve, but then you’ll never get any better. When you’re aiming for the “no,” you’ll have to come up with something a bit wacky, a bit controversial, and just a little bit bonkers. When it gets rejected on the grounds of being “just too out there,” you’ll know that was a job well done.
You can learn the line between persistent and pushy.
As a freelancer, a lot of the time you pitch a concept and never hear back. Same in an office job: you might email your boss with a great out-of-the-box idea and never get a response. It’s tempting to just back off and go back to the drawing board, but this won’t get you anywhere. When rejection is your aim, you better keep persevering until you hear a flat out “no.” And this is where it gets really fun: you don’t even have to stop there. Ask them if you can try again. Get a double whammy “no”! Bonus points! It’s important never to cross the line from persistence into rudeness, but luckily, this challenge has the solution built-in for you. Now, when someone tells you “no,” you can thank them and actually mean it. “Thank you so much for your response! That’s great! I was just wondering if you might be interested if I did it like this…?”
You’ll become as brave as you always wanted to be.
That big publication you think is never going to accept your work? Get the “no”! That company you’d love to interview for but don’t think you’re good enough? Get the “no”! When the word “no” loses its sting, you have nothing to be afraid of anymore, and you’ll find you suddenly have the courage to aim high.
Eventually, you’ll get the “yes”!
And of course, when you put yourself on the line every day, you massively increase your chance of getting the “yes.” You’ll make something really creative and unusual that catches someone’s attention – and get a “yes.” You’ll try again and again for that position you really want – and eventually you’ll get the “yes.”
So go on, dare yourself to hear the word “no” today. Put yourself out there and go get rejected at work; go get rejected by that cute guy who’ve had your eye on; go get rejected by those girls you want to be friends with. Wear those rejections with pride, sister; losing the game just means you’re playing it. And hearing the word “no” just means you’ve given yourself a great big “yes” – and isn’t that what really matters after all?