An investor isn't interested in your pitch. A distributor won't stock your products. A potential customer says "no" to your proposal.
For most entrepreneurs, hearing "yes" is definitely the exception, not the rule. The small-business landscape is littered with rejection.
That's why perseverance is so important: dealing with failure, dealing with adversity, overcoming roadblocks and challenges, and staying the course. Perseverance can be the only thing that separates success from failure.
But that doesn't mean dealing with rejection is easy. Brain scans show that people who get rejected experience a physiological response similar to processing physical pain.
Getting rejected? It actually, physically hurts. Especially when your goals and dreams are at stake.
Fortunately, it's possible to learn to take "no" in stride and keep pushing forward. Just ask Adam Grant, the Wharton B-school professor, best-selling author, and host of the popular podcast Worklife.
"The good news is that we can learn to take rejection in stride," Adam writes. "Take salespeople: They get rejected constantly, and psychologists find that the ones who stick with it are the ones who learn not to take it personally."
But, while it sounds contradictory, to also take responsibility.
Start With the Relationship
One way to cope with rejection is to blame the other person.
My publisher turns down my idea for my next book? Big mistake; they just don't get it. A conference decides not to book me as the (virtual) keynote speaker? Big mistake; they're definitely missing out.
But while shifting the blame to the other person may help me feel better in short term, it's a terrible way to deal with rejection. My book idea might actually be great, but the market timing could be wrong. My presentation might be great, but totally wrong for the conference theme.
I'm not to blame. They're not to blame. The fit -- as of this moment -- is to blame.
Science agrees with that approach. When you "blame" rejection on the relationship instead of on one person -- either you or the other party -- you're much more likely to keep trying. You'll see the problem as temporary, not final. You're much more likely to look at ways to improve what you offer. To improve the mutual fit. To improve the timing.
To consider what the other person needs -- not just what you need -- so hopefully the next time the answer will be yes.
And Stop Taking It Personally
Another approach to dealing with rejection Adam recommends is to remember that failure in one area of your life in no way reflects your overall self-worth.
Maybe I didn't land the book deal. But that doesn't mean the entire me -- the husband, the father, the friend, the writer, the speaker, the fitness enthusiast, etc. -- got rejected. My idea got rejected.
But that's it.
Science agrees with that approach too. 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 walk into the room and put your ego on the line definitely helps as well.)
Just as one success doesn't define you, neither does one failure.
What does define you? How you respond.
And whether you keep trying.
But Don't Move On Too Quickly
We all try to learn from our mistakes and put them behind us. But sometimes you shouldn't move on too quickly.
When I asked Adam for an example of a person who had worked through rejection, he chose Sarah Robb O'Hagan. At the start of her career, Sarah's dream was to work for Air New Zealand. She applied for a marketing internship, took a number of tests, and was turned down because she didn't score highly enough.
"But Sarah refused to take no for an answer," Adam says. "She launched a marketing campaign to get hired. It started when she called the recruiter and asked, 'Could I come and spend just 15 minutes talking to you, so I could learn from why I was not selected?' She got the meeting, did a lot of research on where she could add value, and managed to convince the recruiter to give her an interview with the hiring manager. In the end, there were only six slots, and they had already been filled."
But the company decided to create a seventh slot for Sarah. She worked for Air New Zealand for six years, and then went on to become a marketing executive at Virgin and Nike, the president of Gatorade and Equinox, and the CEO of Flywheel. She's now the CEO of Exos.
"So often, we take a rejection as a sign that the door has been slammed and locked," Adam says. "But in some cases, it's been left ajar. And by failing to give it a little push, we shut it on ourselves."
Sometimes "no" is final. But sometimes "no" creates an opportunity to find out where you fell short, what you could do differently, or how you could develop a better fit with the person or persons who turned you down.
Maybe the problem isn't you. Maybe the problem isn't what you provide.
Maybe the problem is a simple lack of understanding, on both sides, of how you can meet each other's needs.
The Best Way to Deal With Rejection
Coping strategies can help you deal with the aftermath of "no" in the moment.
But while it sounds counterintuitive, the best way -- the best long-term way -- to deal with rejection is to succeed.
Not because you'll never have to face rejection, but because success gives you the confidence to take an occasional or even frequent "no" in stride.
Improve, and you'll feel more confident. Gain skill, and you'll feel more confident. Celebrate and enjoy success, however small, and you'll feel more confident.
And that feeling of confidence will spill over to other areas of your life. Achieve a level of success in one area of your life and you'll feel better about other areas of your life, too -- even the things you don't do particularly well.
"I may not be so great at this," you'll think, "but I am good at that."
And, more important, you'll realize that putting in the work will allow you to be good at this, too.
That knowledge will allow you to stay the course in the face of short-term rejection, to realize that one shortcoming does not define you, and to realize that if you've learned to do one thing really well, you can learn to do many things really well.
All you have to do is keep trying.