I hate the thought of being rejected.
I didn’t go on my first date until I was seventeen, and that only happened because she asked me out. For years I had thought about writing my own book, but only did after my agent convinced me publishers were already interested. I was interested in speaking, but didn’t actually become a speaker until a conference asked me to appear.
Science says I shouldn’t feel too bad about it, though. Brain scans show that people who get rejected experience a physiological response similar to processing physical pain: The more the response matters the more hearing “no” physically hurts.
Which is a huge problem for most people.
Especially entrepreneurs, for whom the startup landscape is often littered with rejection. Potential customers turn down your proposals. Distributors decline not to stock your products. Potential investors say “no” to your pitches.
That’s why learning to stay the course in the face of repeated rejection such an important element of success.
As Steve Jobs said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
So how can you — and I — get better at coping with rejection? See dealing with “no” as a muscle we can build.
Because, coping strategies aside, the best long-term way to deal with rejection is to succeed.
Not because you will then never have to face rejection, but because success will give you you the confidence you need to take the occasional or even frequent “no” in stride.
The 10-Day Rejection Challenge
Perspective is the key to dealing with rejection. If you cold-call 20 potential customers a day, no is an accepted part of the process. If you ask someone for a favor and they say no (or respond by offering a partial favor), that rejection in no way reflects your overall self-worth.
According to research published in Psychological Science, mentally taking a step back to focus on your overall sense of self minimizes your physiological response to rejection and stress. (Reflecting on your overall self-worth before you put your ego on the line definitely helps as well.)
As with most things, experience is the key that unlocks perspective.
So let’s gain that experience.
Every day for the next ten days, pick one thing that is small and relatively unimportant that is likely to lead to rejection. (The emotional stakes are much lower when you go into something assuming you’ll hear “no.”)
Pick things you would never otherwise do. Ask someone notable for advice. Cold-call a potential client you think is out of your league. Send a note of praise to someone whose work you admire.
In my case, I’m going to try (again) to land an interview with Dave Grohl. I’m going to pitch myself as a guest on a couple of my favorite podcasts. (I’m coming for you, SmartLess.) I’m going to pitch an idea to a motor racing series. I’m going to tell Bob Spitz I loved his new Led Zeppellin biography.
Most will say “no.” Maybe all ten will say “no,” or in the case of someone you compliment, may not respond at all.
Those rejections might sting, but since your expectations are low, they won’t really hurt. You’ll probably even start to shrug and smile and think, “Well, I didn’t think that would work out… but it was worth a shot.”
In the process, you’ll start to build your rejection muscle.
And you’ll gain the perspective that comes from realizing, through practice and repetition, that rejection does not and cannot define you.
Unless it’s as the kind of person who keeps on trying.