Successful people don’t learn to avoid rejection, but to deal with it, learn from it, and even turn it into a new opportunity. We talked to some of our favourite successful people — past guests from Lifehacker’s How I Work column — about how they deal with rejection on the job.
Anjali Bhimani, actress:
Ahahaha, as an actress, the question is more “What ISN’T a kind of rejection you face at your job?” because rejection probably comes up in one form or or another on a daily basis, and it’s often not very kindly conveyed.
For me personally, one of the best ways to handle it (even though it doesn’t completely take away the disappointment if it’s a job I really wanted) is to make sure that I am not adding to the rejection by rejecting myself. It’s very easy, especially as an artist, to take it personally when they don’t want you for a role and it’s vital for me to always remember to be kind to myself and not internalize the feedback if it’s not useful criticism. Especially when it’s just plain wrong (for example, when a casting director said I wasn’t hired because of my “Indian intonation” when I was speaking with my born-and-raised American voice). Just because someone else thinks I’m too this or that or not enough this or that doesn’t mean it’s a categorical truth, and more often than not I know there are other considerations/forces at play that I know nothing about.
Sometimes a rejection for one job just means the people in the room liked me but couldn’t use me here, and they end up bringing me back for something else. So the most important thing for me to be able to push past each one is to be my own champion on the inside and be kind to myself and compassionate to the people who are also trying so hard to do their job by casting who they think is right for the role, so that what comes at me from the outside doesn’t get into my head. The feedback isn’t so much about me as a human being as me as a particular product that may or may not be appropriate for the buyer at this time. It still hurts sometimes, but not nearly as much as it did early on in my career when I would think it was a referendum on my talent, my career, or my entire being.
Ben Ho, behavioural economist:
As academics so much of your career depends on getting papers accepted at top journals and what you don’t see on someone’s C.V. (academic résumé) is all the rejection letters they got along the way. Getting tenure really just requires getting acceptance letters from 5 or 6 of the right journals in 6 years. The top journals have acceptance rates in the single digits. It’s normal to get dozens of rejections along the way.
A very typical response to rejection is to hide from it. That’s the #1 mistake that junior faculty make. We always have so much else to do with other projects and teaching that it’s easy just to leave that rejection email unopened, or leave the printout buried under a pile of stuff on your desk. The best advice I try to give to junior faculty is to fix what you can from the feedback in the letters and resubmit it to another journal it as soon as possible. It’s very easy to let these things slide for 6 months or a year. That is a mistake.
That doesn’t make the pain go away. For that, I remind myself about the social science research that most success in life is driven by luck (see work by two of my former colleagues: Bob Frank’s recent book on luck, as well as Tom Gillovich’s excellent recent paper on tailwinds and headwinds). It’s easy to see a rejection as an attack on your self worth. I try not to. Most importantly, I remind myself that my kids will never know or care what’s on my C.V. and they are what’s most important anyway.
Oh and Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”
Morra Aarons-Mele, author and business consultant:
I own a professional services business and sell for a living, so I get rejected about once a week: when a potential client decides not to hire my firm, chooses another firm, or (and this is the worst) decides not to extend a contract.
I have been doing this work for over 20 years, with many wins along the way, but every time a potential client chooses someone else, I take it personally. Worse, though, is that I might assume that one rejection signals very bad news for my business. I catastrophize and blow things way out of proportion.
So I practice visualising abundance, not scarcity, and it really helps me keep things in proportion.
I tell myself: “There’s always more pie.” Scarcity is fighting over one tiny sliver of pie—because that’s all you feel you deserve. Lose that one piece, and no pie for you!
People who come from abundance don’t let a “no” disturb the solid inner core of who they are. There’s always more pie! They encounter a “no,” and assume a “yes” is just around the corner.
So the next time a “no” sends you questioning the viability of your entire financial future or existence, brush it off. Instead of dwelling on the no, force yourself to be generous and expansive. See a beautiful, freshly baked pie in your mind and tell yourself, “That’s ok. There’s plenty more.”
Jamia Wilson, Feminist Press director:
I deal with rejection often as a non-profit executive director in a competitive fundraising landscape, as a writer who pitches my work to magazines, agents, and editors, and as a publisher who seeks to sign authors who are often weighing options with other presses.
Although it may sound like a platitude when you’re in the midst of repairing your ego in the face of a letdown, rejection can be a form of protection from something that isn’t in alignment with your purpose or journey during a specific moment in time. Rejection helps me clarify where to spend my time and energy. It allows me to focus on opportunities and relationships that prioritise my values and strengths.
Sam Reich, CCO, CollegeHumor:
At CollegeHumor, about 50% of sketches end up greenlit — and we feel bad to have to turn down the other 50%. Sometimes the reason is as simple as “too R-rated,” while other times, various other factors come into play. With that in mind, we’ve started a segment on our new CollegeHumor podcast where we read aloud those rejected sketches. What we didn’t anticipate was that it would give sketches a second life. This past week, reading through Rekha Shankar’s “Secret Meat” sketch, we all unanimously decided it should go straight into production.