Jack Ma is China's richest man. He's also the 12th-wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of $29.7 billion, according to Forbes. Ma is the founder of Alibaba, an e-commerce company that's the equivalent of Amazon in China.
He launched a multibillion-dollar company and became one of the most financially successful people alive, so you might imagine he was always a superstar. Not by a long shot. As a young man, Ma failed the college entrance exam three times in a row. He applied for 30 different jobs, getting turned down for all of them.
"I went for a job with the police; they said, 'You're no good,' " Ma told Charlie Rose in an interview. "I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy... ." Ma was also rejected by numerous banks for loans and didn't turn a profit for his first three years in business.
How could someone who ended up so wildly successful have been rejected?
It turns out this is a common theme. J.K. Rowling, the billionaire author of the Harry Potter series of books and movies, saw her manuscript rejected by 12 different publishers before one took a risk on her. Steve Jobs was rejected by more than 20 venture capitalists when trying to raise money for Apple, which now is the most valuable company in the world, worth more than $700 billion.
We all get rejected, but the best-of-the-best are able to dust themselves off and rise from their setbacks, further emboldened to succeed. Imagine if Jobs, Ma, or Rowling gave up, becoming discouraged and forfeiting their dreams. Not only would their potential have been squandered, but also the world would be worse off, having never benefited from their contributions.
If you are pursuing anything worthwhile, you will likely be met with resistance. Rather than internalizing negative feedback, rejections, or setbacks as a life sentence of failure, realize these judgments do not define you. You have the capacity to learn, grow, and rise above those who would rather criticize from the sidelines than take a risk and create something of their own.
In life, rejection is highly likely. How you choose to respond is what will define you, not the setback itself. In the words of Vince Lombardi, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get up."
When you stumble, let it fuel your commitment to win rather than derail your mission. Don't empower those who reject. Instead, muster up the strength to prove them wrong.