Towan, Keep It 100:
How Do You Overcome Rejection?

T File | Posted on October 17, 2017

Another busy day; another time for me to keep it real about the challenges of being a boss and a woman in business. Today’s question is one I’ve been asked several times throughout my career, and it’s a topic that is as relevant for me as CEO of a minority-owned business as it is for most people: 

“How do you overcome rejection?”

Like taxes and bad hair days, rejection is something that everyone, even the most successful people, experience. Sometimes rejection is as blatant as someone not taking you up on an offer, or not hiring you for a particular job. It can cut like a knife, such as when you get passed up for a promotion after working your butt off, or when a potential client chooses a competitor over your company, even though you represent decades of success with their target consumers. Regardless of why rejection happens, it’s more important to focus on being prepared for when it does. 

My quick thoughts on overcoming rejection:

  • Get the lesson. You don’t have to agree, but you must recognize the other person’s perspective.
  • No one is perfect. Assess how your own actions contributed to the situation.
  • Know that every situation is a stepping-stone to something greater.

Listen, everybody understands that rejection is tough, but what too many people choose to focus on is their own perspective of the situation. One reason this is so common is because most often, people’s perception of an event becomes their own reality of that occurrence. While you might think that you were fired from your last position because your boss hated you, it might actually have been the result of company-wide downsizing and your boss no longer having the customer headcount to keep you around. It doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly easier to be unemployed, but understanding that your view of a situation may have nothing to do with the rejection makes it easier to move forward.

“Like taxes and bad hair days, rejection is something that everyone, even the most successful people, experience.” 

The flip side of the coin is knowing when to acknowledge where you had a hand in being rejected for something. One thing that has tremendously aided me in my dealings as a CEO is that I can always assess people’s level of self-awareness. Whenever I hear people talk about rejection, and they tend to point fingers and do a “But she . . . ,” “But they . . . ,” or “But he didn’t . . .” type of blame game, I immediately know that person’s level of maturity. Again, this doesn’t mean that sometimes people won’t reject you for unfair or malicious reasons, but self-awareness is a key sign that a person is mature and intellectual enough to handle rejection.

A mature person says, “I could have done more research on the client’s core values in order to get the account” or “I should have explained in detail how I have used my skills to grow followers and social media mentions for employers in the past” instead of just “I didn’t get the job.” 

“I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life. It shook me to my very core.”
— 
Oprah Winfrey, on being fired from her first media job

If all of this sounds like one big balancing act, it’s because it is! Handling rejection, and knowing how to handle yourself in business, is a learning experience. It’s important to have a 360-degree view of yourself because self-awareness is essential to growth. Most people willingly see only about 180 degrees of themselves, but what good is that when others can see the 180 degrees you’re trying to hide? Until you can handle rejection, you won’t be able to progress in your career (or your life, really). While it’s not fun to get passed over for a raise, or get overlooked for a client opportunity, or even have to go on interview after interview just to find a job, know that every situation is a stepping-stone to something greater.

“Think about it: As individuals we tend to progress. The only time we don’t move forward is when we refuse to learn the lesson. Every day, try to wake up with the mindset: What lesson can I learn today?”

So that’s my takeaway for overcoming rejection: try to see both sides, try to see where you went wrong, and try to see it as a teachable moment. There’s no easy way to get used to being rejected, but you can change how you respond to it. Humility in the face of not getting what you want is one professional value that I live by and that I expect from those I work with, as would any CEO.