Celebrating rejection and failure

Dave Ferguson told me this story of a real estate agency that trains people to not be afraid of rejection. Salespeople aren’t afraid of “no”s because those “no”s are part of the path towards “yes”es. This real estate agency realized that at some point, their new recruits are going to experience clear, unambiguous rejection: a door slammed in their face! When that happens, that person’s mentor is going to take them out, treat them to lunch, and celebrate their first door. It’s an important milestone.

There’s another interesting idea along those lines: the Rejection Therapy game. The rules are simple: Every day, you must be rejected by at least one person. Not “try to be rejected”, actually rejected. A flat-out no when you are in a position of (some) vulnerability and the other person is in a position of (some) power. If you have a hard time coming up with rejection situations, you can get the playing cards or the app. Tapping into your fears or uncertainties might give you plenty of ideas. The game desensitizes you to rejection, making you less afraid of it. In the process, who knows what you’ll learn and how wonderful your life will be?

What might my rejections look like, and how can I get ready to celebrate them?

Consulting: Plenty of opportunities for rejection here. You don’t have enough experience. This doesn’t make sense. It’s not a good fit. You don’t know enough about our culture. This wouldn’t work here. You charge too much. Each of those things illuminates something else I can learn and contains a hint about where I might succeed. I’m going to celebrate my first blank stare, my first awkward silence at a workshop, my first client-walks-out rejection.

Writing: Apathy is the toughest rejection to crack. After I self-publish a book, I can look forward to celebrating any months without sales. If I go with the traditional publishing route, I can celebrate my first form-letter rejection, my first hundred. Harsh flames might be worthy, too. After all, safe writing is boring writing. I want to write things that are useful, which may mean writing things that people are surprised by or that people disagree with.

Drawing: I’ve actually made a lot of progress towards rejection milestones in drawing. I’ve gotten the “Maybe you should learn how to draw – my kid can draw better than this” rejection. I’ve gotten the “That isn’t funny” rejection and the “That’s insulting! Won’t someone think about company morale?” rejection (from an executive, no less!). I’ve gotten the “Your style tries to copy ___ too much” rejection, too. Hmm, maybe I can collect different kinds of rejections… I found it easy to deal with those rejections because I don’t have my ego wrapped up in my drawing skills or my sense of humour. I know I’ve got tons to learn!

I tend to celebrate rejection and failure through blog posts (because I’ll almost always manage to get a story out of something!). What are other good ways to celebrate them? Hugs, cat-cuddling, bike rides, a good session with a book, some sketches, a trip to the museum or art gallery (surrounded by the beautiful results of countless failures)… =)

What do your rejection milestones look like, and how can you celebrate them?

  • Stephen Perelgut

    A couple of thoughts:

    Celebrating rejection is a good idea. I can’t remember if I stole the expression from Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) or Jonny Hart (“BC”, “Wizard of Id”) or Robert Heinlein (misogynistic curmudgeon and author) but… “If you aren’t failing some of the time, you aren’t trying hard enough.”

    Seeking out rejection strikes me like a plan to hit yourself with a hammer every day because then you’ll be tougher. Rejection, like pain, shouldn’t be sought after but should be recognized and accepted as a consequence of whatever you are attempting – be it consulting or exercise.or whatever else.

    P.S. I love how thought provoking your blog posts are. I hope you never decide to stop sharing – many people benefit from your words every day.

  • Stephen: Maybe it isn’t so much seeking rejection as it is taking more risks that might lead to rejection. I’d never underperform in order to get rejected, but I might be playing it too safe. It wouldn’t surprise me if I were being too conservative with life. I tend to push comfort zones out gradually, going from strength to strength. I make no wild leaps without a well-considered safety net (yes, even moving to Canada, marrying W-, or starting a business). Then again, it’s also totally okay to take this approach, and to teach other people how to do it.

    I’ve worked way outside my comfort zone before. I didn’t like it at all, and I’m not sure if it improved my capabilities all that much. (Although I did learn the IBM process for getting help, which was great to know!)

  • Sacha, I’d like to acknowledge that I learned the real-estate example from Allison Rossett (@arossett on Twitter); this was an example from a program she had worked on for training both new real-estate salespeople and their mentors.

    If I remember correctly, when mentors discussed milestones in their own training, the slammed door stood out. In a way, it became a sort of marker that you were on your way to learning more about your profession.

    That’s what I think you’re driving at. Seeking rejection for its own sake could be a kind of masochism. Accepting rejection, considering its possible meanings, that’s a form of learning.

  • Dave: Thanks for sharing! =)

    Maybe that’s it – not looking for the experience of rejection, but rather periodically testing one’s boundaries to see if something isn’t actually that much of a stretch.

    I’m both shy and introverted. I feel anxious about social rejection, and I find social interactions often over-stimulating. I get around the former by blogging and by being helpful, because that way I don’t presume on people’s attention and I focus on creating value. I get around the latter with a few, well-chosen events and groups of friends, and with plenty of downtime between interactions.

    Pushing the boundaries and being less afraid of rejection in those areas wouldn’t mean talking to random strangers, but it might mean letting people know that I’m curious about spending more time with them, learning more about their lives, and sharing more of their activities.

    Come to think of it, this is probably not that risky, because people I know are generally nice and won’t tell me off. Hmm…

  • Rejection is always a tough one to learn to accept especially if you’ve been in an area where rejection doesn’t really have much at stake. A failed project or two may not be something you may necessarily learn much over. But if you’re on your own and those projects are what keep you afloat, that’s when you start to really glean lessons out of rejections (what can I do differently next time), successes (how can I make that happen with my new client) and even apathy (why was I bored with this, what can I do to make it better).

    As with everything, it really comes down to how much you choose to invest in your own time and effort and what you manage to get out of everything you experience. It’s certainly easier said than done.

    Perhaps it’s even the unexpected events that teach the best lessons. Succeeding when you thought there was no chance, being rejected when you thought it was a sure thing. Those are the best and worst experiences but conversely, they offer the most to learn from. Each one is a visceral and gritty experience that you can choose to simply experience, or to actually analyze and make it really something useful. In the end the choice is up to your motivation to decide what you want to get out of it.

    Sorry to wax poetic, I’m at the cusp of some interesting times. Just wrote a “Frank Jania” post internally :).

  • Robi: Way to tease me about things I can’t see any more! Hmm, maybe I can ask W-…

    I totally tend to wring out all sorts of thoughts and ideas from my experiences. I figure that whatever happens, I’ll probably get a good blog post or a story out of it. Sometimes I might err on the side of over-analyzing life, but it’s another way to get value out of everything, even the downside. =)

  • Mom

    Hi Sacha,

    I got my literal “door-closing-in-your-face” rejection when I was 20 and selling encyclopedias.

    It was also during that time that I learned not to fear rejection but to count them as steps to getting closer to success. Our trainer told us about success ratios. He said that our success ratio meant a certain number of rejections led to one successful sale. For some, that’s a hundred rejections and one sale, and for others, maybe 50 is to 1. But nobody has a one-to-one success ratio. So every time I got rejected, I was getting closer to success.

    Of course, we also had to work on bringing down that ratio, but we learned not to be ashamed of rejections.

  • It’ll make sense if you think about it. You know where my blog is so he can look it up. It’s a couple of posts old already. :)

  • Paul

    I loved your “seeking rejection” suggestion, but from reading the comments I guess I took it in another direction. To me, this means that if you are seeking one rejection everyday, you are actively trying to “sell” something to someone other than yourself. While you are seeking that one rejection everyday, think of how many “yeses” you may get for things you would have never considered trying.

  • Paul: That’s how I was thinking of it too! =)

    Mom: I remember your stories of encyclopedia-selling days. Must’ve been quite an adventure!

  • Bernie

    There ‘a a great section in the book Learned Optimism on how the author taught a company how to pick sales people based on their ability to deal with rejection. Highly tecommended

  • Zach


    Great post. I have been looking into the app; unfortunately, it’s rated low and there is some questioning about the game’s genuine value.

    Do you recall any specific examples of the game’s challenges? Are they elaborate – e.g. “write a proposal to work with someone as a business partner” – or more simple like “ask for a discount on coffee” ? Do any specific challenges come to mind?

    p.s. nice blog! You’re the latest in a long line of inspirations…maybe I’ll start my own some day soon.