I was watching Shark Tank the other night and was particularly struck by a budding young entrepreneur who was being skewered by the Sharks. At first she vigorously defended her product and strategy, but to no avail. Then she stoically took it all in. Finally, she broke down.
There's not a soul among us who hasn't been in her shoes and had to deal with the pain of rejection. That may be the single most common shared experience among entrepreneurs. Few things rock us as much as the knowledge that we've come to a hard stop because we can't convince others that our ideas, our skills, or simply who we are isn't good enough in their eyes.
So, stop and recall a rejection that really knocked you off center, one that made you question the very core of your brilliance and who you are. Got it? Good. You might be expecting that I'm going to ask you to think of what it felt like, or how you coped, or what got you through. None of the above. Whether you went through it 10 years ago or 10 hours ago, the answers to all of those questions are uniquely yours and yours alone to figure out. I'm not going to give you some sort of elixir to ease the pain. Trust me, if i had any I wouldn't have much left over to share.
Instead I want you to answer an utterly simple but extraordinarily telling question, "Do you avoid rejection?"
What I've experienced with unwavering consistency is that successful entrepreneurs seek out rejection. They want to test the mettle of their ideas so that they can refine and reengineer them. Far from sidestepping rejection they seek it out. If anything frustrates those that they interact with it's that they welcome the opportunity to put their ideas in the ring.
Since rejection creates the same physiological response that physical pain does, we instinctively want to find a way around it. We have this naive expectation that if we are brilliant, innovative, and self-aware then rejection should be painless. Guess, what? Only if you're also oblivious. The more certain you are of yourself and the better you understand what drives and motivates you, the bigger of a deal rejection is. The key is not avoiding it or developing an immunity to it but rather learning how to live with it as an ally.
If you're having trouble with that try these three steps next time you find yourself in the cross hairs of rejection.
- Respect the rejector. This is a tough one but think it through. If the person, committee, or organization you're trying to convince is worth having as a partner, colleague, or collaborator shouldn't they also be worth listening to when they reject you or your idea?
- Accept that in every rejection there is some truth. None of us want to hear that our brainchild is ugly. However, if someone is putting the time and energy into a rejection chances are that there is some truth in what they're saying, slim though it may be.
- No rejection is the end of the road. Know the difference between a detour, which can be caused by someone or something out of your control, and a new path which is your choice alone. I'm all for learning from rejection and changing behaviors that are undermining my goals. However, no rejection is the end of the road. At worst it's a longer path.
- Finally, is what you were rejected from what you really wanted. Our initial reaction to rejection is most often to try and defend the value of whatever is being rejected. However, I've found that it's just as often the case that a rejection is a great opportunity to realize that what you were chasing is not what you really needed. That doesn't mean it's time to give up but rather to ask why your idea isn't holding up against naysayers.
None of us are wired to ask for rejection and yet it just may be one of life's greatest opportunities to test and temper our ideas and ourselves.