We’ve all been there. You pour your heart into a business proposal or a creative project, hoping it will be enthusiastically received, only to have it rejected.
Whether you’re in the early stages of your career or at the top in your field, rejection can still sting. And if the rejection itself wasn’t bad enough, you also have to struggle with feelings of self doubt and insecurity. Am I good enough? Should I just quit?
While rejection can often derail our motivation, we should use it as an opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with our goals and build our confidence. By following this guide, we can reframe rejection in a positive way and use it to fuel our productivity.
Journal your feelings
You might feel like you should dive right back into work and double down on your efforts after a rejection. But examining your emotions can help you understand the feelings behind your rejection, which in turn, can help you move on and focus more clearly on your work. You’ll do better work with a clear mind. Journaling is a great way to get those feelings out.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Pick a time when you can have solitude and quiet.
- Add self-care elements to this exercise: light a candle, play soothing music, make a cup of tea. Rejection is a kick to the ego, so use this time to comfort yourself.
- Write down everything that is coming up for you. What was particularly challenging about this rejection? Could you have done anything differently in your work? Are there any lessons you can take from it?
By doing this exercise, you’ll learn that a setback or failure doesn’t define you as a person—it’s a mere roadblock that you can navigate.
Remember your past achievements
It’s so easy to replay our failures in an endless loop, but what if we devoted this same amount of attention to our accomplishments?
Go through old emails from friends or co-workers who’ve said positive things about you. Maybe it’s a performance review from your boss or a friend telling you how you’ve made their day. Read their messages and picture them saying these positive things to you. You can even print out or write down these messages in your journal and refer back to them whenever you’re feeling unsure about your work.
Allow yourself to remember that you’re capable of great things. You’ll build the confidence to move forward and accomplish even more.
Don’t compare yourself to others
After a rejection, it’s natural to compare yourself to peers and bemoan your lack of accomplishments, especially when you’re on social media. Twitter and Instagram can feel like an endless parade of other people’s successes. But everyone experiences failure and rejection—even the greatest creative and business minds.
You may have heard about JK Rowling’s rejections from publishers. Or Spanx founder Sarah Blakely enduring a decade of failure before finding success. If they can move forward, you can too.
Here are some ways to avoid the comparison trap:
- Log out of social media sites on your computer
- Write in your journal every time you find yourself wanting to check up on other people.
- Figure out if there’s a particular situation or time of day that makes you want to compare and despair. Maybe the solution is something as easy as not looking at your phone while in the grocery line. Bring a notepad or an inspiring book instead.
Return to your work
When you’re ready, dust off that rejection and return to your work. If the feelings of self doubt re-emerge, try to remember what drew you to this project in the first place. What was it that initially sparked your excitement?
Try to glean any insights from the rejection. Did a magazine pass on your pitch because it wasn’t the right fit? Study the publication again and see what they accept. Did a film festival reject your short film or script? See if there are other festivals you can submit it to.
Just because one place rejects your work doesn’t mean that others will. In fact, these rejections can be a blessing in disguise and help you discover the perfect outlet for your work.
Practice your craft
Instead of dwelling on rejection, let it be instructive in helping you figure out how to hone your craft. By developing your practice, you’re building creative or business muscles, and in doing so, learning to execute your work even more efficiently.
- Brush up on your work and take a class in your field.
- Take a class that is complementary to your field and “cross-train.” If you’re a screenwriter getting criticism on your dialogue, try a playwriting class. See if something in that discipline can inform your own work and strengthen it.
- Set aside time each day to practice your craft: Prepare little challenges for yourself. If you’re an illustrator, create a piece of artwork each day. If you’re launching a business but not confident in your public speaking, try a Toastmasters workshop or even an improv class. Attend networking events where you can practice talking about your business.
Do it yourself
You don’t need permission to put up your own work. Actress Felicia Day was struggling in her career when she decided to write and star in her own web series, which gave her more success than TV ever did. Here’s how you, too, can put yourself in the driver’s seat of your career:
- If a festival or gallery passes on your submission: organize your own show at a venue that you like.
- If a publication rejects your piece: put it up on your personal blog or Medium and share it on Facebook. You never know—one of your followers could enjoy it and connect you to an editor.
- If your boss passes you over for a promotion: see if you can develop a side gig to give you the skills and extra income that you seek.
You’ll end up feeling even more empowered because you’re not waiting for other people to say yes.
The path to success is not a straight line. It’s often a zig zag with several ups and downs. But this can be a positive thing! In sports, setbacks can be the setups for a thrilling comeback. While you can’t control the setbacks in your career, you can manage how you respond to them.
By overcoming rejection, you’ll build your mental strength and endurance, which will allow you to become even more productive in the process. Once you discover that failure doesn’t have to define or destroy you, you’ll be equipped to do your best work and position yourself for success.