Career Advice, Now + Beyond

4 things successful people do after getting rejected

Successful people do things others don't. Here's the scoop.

Rejection sucks. No matter how humble we are, it still hurts to be told we’re not right in some way. It can be saying goodbye to someone you love, not getting the dream job, or being told your fabulous idea won’t work; it doesn’t matter, rejection sucks.

But, if you never get rejected you’re probably leaving something on the table – if you’ve never been knocked back, it probably means you haven’t been trying as hard as you can, reaching as far as feels comfortable and then breathing in and going a bit further (like a yoga class!).

In my experience as a coach, I usually work with people who are ambitious. By definition, they will sometimes suffer rejection. They often need help to deal and over time I’ve noticed that the most successful people go through 4 phases.

Phase 1: They mourn it.

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They acknowledge it hurts and they take some time to feel bad about it.

They don’t immediately try to “move on” or to kid themselves and others that they “didn’t care anyway”.

Instead, they acknowledge the emotion and name it. The more specific, the better. By doing this, the research suggests they get some control over it.*

Phase 2: They accept it.

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This might take an hour, or it might take a year- that will depend on the enormity of the rejection and your ability to roll with the punches. “Your Mileage May Vary.”

And it may vary over time.

For example, I’ve had times when I’ve been resilient enough to deal with things that others couldn’t, and other periods where I’ve wanted burst into tears when I thought someone had given me a “funny look.”

Phase 3: They learn from it.

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As they say “you’ve paid the price, so you might as well get the benefit.”

There’s always something to learn from rejection. At the very least you’ve learned more about how another person perceives you. That might be right or wrong, and you might care more or less, but you’ve definitely learned something.

Phase 4: They get back into it.

[Image description: Actress Eva Longoria can be seen walking in a green dress with her hair flowing.] Via Giphy
Just because you’ve been rejected once doesn’t mean it’ll happen again.

Don’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results though. Something needs to change if you’re going to get acceptance rather than rejection.

The real work (and the pay off) comes from working out what that is and then deciding to make a change. It is work though so, as always, you have to acknowledge the first Rule of Adulting i.e. “You can do anything you like. You just have to live with the consequences”.

*The research I’m referring to is when people in a fMRI machine were shown photos of faces expressing strong emotions. In this situation, our amygdala lights up. This is the part of the brain involved in generating emotions so that makes sense. But it’s also the part of the brain that is what I call the “monkey brain”.

It’s not where we calmly look at the evidence and react appropriately. It’s where we cry/scream/shout/gossip and do other things in the moment that might not, on reflection, help us to achieve our goals. We don’t want to stay there too long. Instead, we want to engage the “executive brain”.  One way to help do this is to name the emotion you’re feeling and this is advice we give when training on HardTalk or difficult conversations too.  When the people in the machine were asked to name the emotion they were seeing the activity in their amygdala dropped and scientists saw more activity in a region of the right frontal lobe known as the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (rvlPFC) which is a region involved in vigilance and discrimination.

It seems that assessing and naming an emotion seems to transform the emotion into an object of scrutiny, thereby disrupting its raw intensity: “affect labeling”  as it’s described in the research (or as we like to call it “naming your emotions”) gives us some control back. And this isn’t even new news.

As long ago as the seventeenth-century, philosopher Benedict de Spinoza observed that “an emotion, which is a passion, ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea thereof. [The emotion] becomes more under our control, and the mind is less passive in respect to it.”