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Beyond No:

Four Ways to Turn Business Rejection into Opportunity

2/23/2024 | The Hustle

Rejection (noun): the act of refusing to accept somebody for a job, position, etc.

I grew up in the golden age of Top 40 radio listening to The Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Humble Harv (later convicted of killing his wife and sent to prison), and Dr. Don Rose, among other famous West Coast disc jockeys. These guys were bigger than life to me, so it’s no wonder I wanted to become a DJ. Radio, like many industries, is tough to break into, and comes with lots of rejection. At one time, I had 127 rejection letters from the best radio stations in the country that didn’t want me. 

It would have been much easier to give up and choose a different career; but for me, rejection bred resiliency. I learned through trial, error and hustling what I needed to do to work in major market radio. I kept those rejection letters for years to remind myself being rejected by one person or organization doesn’t mean you won’t be embraced elsewhere.  

As small business owners and entrepreneurs, rejection is a daily occurrence we all handle differently. Some are terrified, never putting themselves in a position to be rejected again and missing out on opportunities. Others get mad, never considering what they might do differently to create a different outcome. And some laugh at rejection, using it to bounce back even stronger. 

How do we handle the inherent rejection we all face as hustlers, working to find our success? How do we reframe it and use it to our advantage? Some of the most famous people in the world were rejected multiple times, taking it in stride to become the person we know today. Here are four ideas you too can use to develop a resilience that will keep you on track to achieve success.

Acknowledge and reflect on your feelings: Let’s face it, rejection hurts, so don’t ignore it. If it helps, scream and hit a pillow, then acknowledge your feelings, process them, and work to understand the why behind the rejection you received. If you journal, write out what happened from your perspective and what changes might be needed. Talk with friends or business associates to get their perspective. Remember, rejection doesn’t define who you are and is simply a moment in time. Barbara Corcoran, New York City real estate tycoon and Shark Tank investor said, ”All the best things happened to me on the heels of rejection so I consider rejection a lucky charm,”

Determine the why: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand why you were rejected. If it’s a situation where you can get feedback from them, do it. What didn’t you do, what could you have done differently, do you need to learn new skills, do you need more experience? Whatever you can learn will give you an edge the next time you go for it. Don’t use rejection as a reason to quit, but as motivation to do better next time. Actor Sylvester Stallone had it right when he said, I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” 

Use rejection to learn and adapt: It’s said physicist Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing things the same way over and over again and expecting different results. Getting a no or being rejected doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong. It is a good time though to re-evaluate what you’re doing to see if you can up-your-game in some way. If you have a mentor, explain what happened and ask for their advice. Whether it’s a business pitch that got rejected, a failed product, lost client, or a job that went to someone else, now’s the time to refine what you’re doing. Are there classes you could take to broaden your skill set? Think “outside the box” to find creative ways to improve your pitch, tweak a product you’ve created, further define niches to gain market share, or research companies you want to work with. Another Shark Tank investor, Mark Cuban, was rejected and failed multiple times before selling a software company he founded to Yahoo for $5.7 billion. "I've learned it doesnt matter how many times you fail,” Cuban notes.” You only have to be right once.” Be confident you’ll get it right the next time…and you will.

Use it to refocus and fuel your motivation: Rather than fear rejection, let it serve as a reminder of why you started this journey to begin with. Refocus on what’s important, review your goals, look for areas where you can improve, and then determine what you’ll do differently next time. Use rejection to reignite your passion and determination and motivate you to prove the naysayers wrong. Challenge yourself to push beyond your limits and propel yourself forward. Famous director Steven Spielberg applied and was rejected three times to the USC School of Film, eventually going elsewhere before dropping out to pursue directing. He believes in always looking ahead noting, You have many years ahead of you to create the dreams that you cant even imagine dreaming.” Stay laser focused on your goals and don’t let rejection deter you from achieving greatness.

Rejection can be one of life’s most painful experiences, but don’t let it dissuade you. Those 127 rejection letters I got from radio stations might have driven someone less motivated to give up and get a job selling shoes. But I loved radio and instead of giving up I worked longer and harder. I listened to what other successful DJ’s were doing, practiced, and eventually ended up in a major market doing what I loved. As leadership and personal development coach John Maxwell said, Successful people reject rejection.” 

You should do the same.  And remember, every no brings you that much closer to a yes! 

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