5 Ways to Turn Rejection Into Resilience As I've built my company, I've grown a much thicker skin when it comes to rejection — and so can you. Here's how.
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When you set out to create something, you're going to hear a lot more "no'' than "yes" — but don't let that discourage you. Instead, make it work in your favor.
I founded TO THE MARKET to power the ethical and sustainable supply chain, a value proposition that seems hard to argue with, but that hasn't stopped me from being on the receiving end of a steady stream of rejection. It's taken me a long time to learn how to accept rejection and turn it into a driving force. From understanding how to process feedback to practicing patience and establishing a network of support, these lessons have been invaluable — and essential — to my growth as an entrepreneur, and every step of the way was a vital one on my path to building my business.
Below are some of the biggest lessons I have learned to date; those that have kept me going and still keep me going even today.
1. When you receive feedback, consider where it's coming from
You will hear a lot of advice and, even though you may think you should hang on everyone's every word, you would do yourself a service to take much of it with a grain of salt. Focus most closely on what comes from people who have actually done what you are doing — those who are in the industry doing your role and have real-world, hands-on experience.
I remember one instance in which I received really brutal feedback. I am used to a steady clip of critical feedback as a CEO fundraising and selling out in the market, but this felt gratuitously mean-spirited and unfair. FIghting back tears, I reached out to a dear friend of mine and fellow founder, Tom, and told him what happened. The first thing he said to me was, Were any of them operators? The answer was no — they were investors or people working in major corporations. Tom bluntly told me that I had to filter the feedback.
That's not to discourage any of us from taking advice — I've benefited tremendously from the guidance of many non-operators and industry experts working in big companies — but the point is to always be discerning, especially if the feedback feels off, uninformed or unrealistic.
2. In a world that seeks instant gratification, practice patience
We have grown accustomed to posting an update and getting flooded with feedback, or Slacking a message to a teammate and getting a rapid response. When you are out there pitching to potential decision-makers, the initial silence can be deafening.
But we have to remember that no one cares more about our project than we do, and no one is working harder on it than us. Because of that, others will not place the same level of urgency or importance on reviewing it. We become one of many things they likely have on their plate.
In turn, we have to balance persistence with patience and grace. Put your head down, do the work, and remember those who toiled for years before breaking through. It famously took Julia Child nine years to write and find a publisher for her landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Ray Kroc didn't start building his McDonald's empire until he was in his 50s; and there's the standard-bearer of all late-blooming success stories, Grandma Moses, who was 78 when she sold her first painting. Most great things take time, so don't forget the others who weren't overnight sensations as you move along your path to success.
3. It takes plenty of perseverance to break through the competition
I recently heard a story about a former staffer of Henry Kissinger's. I'm paraphrasing, but the story goes something like this: The staffer shared a policy paper with Secretary Kissinger. Kissinger then reached out to the staffer and asked, Is this the best work that you can do? The staffer paused and said, No, I could probably work a bit more on it, which Kissinger instructed him to do. The staffer brought it back again and, again, Kissinger looked at it and asked if this was the best work that he could do. The staffer paused and agreed that he likely could do better. On the third attempt, the staffer brought forward the paper, and Kissinger asked him if this was the best work he could do. Exhausted, the staffer defiantly said, Yes, this is the absolute best I can do! To which Kissinger apparently said, Great, now I will read it.
What's the point? Your barometer for what's your "best" is yours alone, but excellence takes refinement and experience — and perseverance. So, practice your presentations, write and rewrite your pitches and, perhaps most important, hustle. The marketplace is a battleground with everyone competing for attention, interest and dollars. We may not always win, but at least we can try to put forth our very best effort.
4. You can — and will — survive and thrive under the weight of rejection
Although it may not seem hard to throw off the weight of rejection, hearing a bunch of nos instead of yesses can help you in the long run — if you use it as fuel to propel you forward. My husband and fellow entrepreneur, Nate, used to tell me that every no was one step closer to a yes. At first, I dismissed his comments as placating, but as I began to emotionally separate myself more and more from the nos or ghosting that I encountered, I came to understand what he meant.
His point was that once we feel like our best work is ready to put out into the world, we have to methodically begin outreach, pitching and networking. You may talk to 100 people before finding one person willing to accept your idea. And even then, that might not be enough, and you'll need to talk to 100 more to land that second yes.
The fastest track to failure is giving up. As one of my board members, Gene, helped me to do, reframe a "no" as clarity. It's far better than the uncertainty of no response. Take Billie Jean King's famous adage, "Pressure is a privilege" to heart and engage with that weight to drive you to persist.
5. Share your plight with your greatest supporters
Having a community is key. Friends and family are critical, often providing much-needed words of encouragement when you feel like you've got nothing left. As is the support of other people who are doing what you're doing and similarly putting themselves out in the world. I would not have been able to endure all of the rejection I have had without a stalwart group of people who continue to cheer me on. Make sure you have yours, too. Their encouragement will be a balm for your soul.