You have a fear of rejection? Here’s how to help that.
Every rejection letter he got hung on a nail above his desk. By the time he was 14 the nail failed to support the weight of all the letters it held.
His first novel was rejected more than 30 times before it was published. He received not only a firm “no”, but the cutting reasons why. Letter after letter told him he was not good enough, then went onto explain his faults, just to make it clear they weren’t interested in his current or future work.
He kept on writing, and now Stephen King has been published dozens of times and sold over 350 million books!
The human experience of rejection is universal, unavoidable, and the most debilitating thing we experience. Worst of it all… there isn’t much you can do about it. Or so it seems.
The human brain is hard-wired to fear rejection above all else. In a more primitive time, rejection meant exile. When you weren’t allowed in the cave with your people, you were doomed. It might as well be a death sentence, a painful lonely death.
The funny thing about human progress is that our physical evolution hasn’t kept up. Despite our incredible cultural achievements, we are still operating with the instinctual biology our caveman ancestors worked with.
The truth is that rejection is unavoidable. The human mind is so wired to fear rejection, that it can’t discriminate between actually dangerous rejection and harmless rejection. For example, not getting a reply to an email may be totally benign, yet your mind will still feel rejected. The degree in which the mind responds to rejection differs, obviously more serious things will hurt more. However, nothing will shut off the brain’s response entirely. No matter what, every instance of rejection will have an effect on you.
So what do we do? While we can’t STOP the feelings of rejection, we can manage them.
Step 1: Acceptance
Understand and accept that you will feel rejection every time. Knowing that this is coming and being OK with it is vital to your success. This first step alone will dramatically lessen the effects of rejection on your mindset!
Step 2: Prep for it.
When you have been rejected, know that you can plan ahead for handling the effects. Often times, when I open an email in the morning that contains a rejection (even a small one), I know that my afternoon is going to be less productive. I may feel fine in the moment, but I know that email will begin to weigh on me and drag me down. Immediately, I make alternate plans for the afternoon to compensate. For example, I may plan to take the dog for a walk to get outside and get my blood moving. Perhaps I take administrative work to a cafe for a change of scenery.
These are ideas that work for me when I know that sitting at my desk all afternoon is going to be fruitless. Whatever works for you is fine, just make sure you actually do something instead of just pushing through.
Step 3: Lean into it.
Similar to Stephen King’s method of nailing each rejection letter to his wall, find a way to turn your rejection into a trophy! In 2021, one of my goals was to be rejected 100 times by the end of the year. If I wasn’t being rejected at least 100 times, then I wasn’t putting myself out there enough. Every time I found rejection, I made a tally on the bulletin board above my desk.*
Of course, It’s important that you don’t identify as a rejection. This concept is more about identifying as someone who perseveres and puts himself out there, definitely not as a failure.
Step 4: Keep your goals front and center
Goal setting is the most discussed, yet most underutilized technique out there. We’ve heard about the importance of goal setting time and time again, so I won’t drag you through a full lecture on it. For now, I’ll just say you need to keep your long term and short term goals front and center.
Long term goal:
- Being a concept artist for Blizzard Entertainment.
Short term goal:
- Publish my art on Artstation.com once per week.
Keep your goals written and in front of you at all times! Rejection is a storm that comes and threatens to push your ship of course. Goals are the map and compass you need to get back on track.
Step 5: Be merciful to yourself.
99% of the time, we need to push just a little bit harder and a little bit farther than normal in the face of rejection. However, everyone has limits and knowing how to pace yourself is crucial.
For example, I keep rejection limited to a space and time. I can only open apps and check emails that I use for communicating with potential clients while at my desk. Though my phone is usually at hand, I must be in my office and at my desk to access those communications. Furthermore, it is only after I’ve worked on something creative and during my designated work hours. My weekends, early mornings, and evening are left untouched, this gives me room to breathe, unavailable to the possibility of a rejection.
Some final notes:
Not every rejection is extreme, it comes in all shapes and sizes. In fact, sometimes it seems negligible. Even if you don’t register it much, your brain is still categorizing and logging that away as rejection. It simply can’t help itself.
It’s nice if something feels small and doesn’t hurt much, but you still need to recognize it and make sure you add it to your “trophy collection”. Even if you don’t notice at first, these rejections stack up internally and will come crashing down later if poorly managed.
One of my favorite books on this subject is called “Objections” by Jeb Blount.
The book is written from the perspective of high ticket sales and the objections you’ll get from that field. Do not write it off though, use some creativity to see where this can transfer to your field and you will reap the rewards!
*Some people will find success sooner. Sometimes they even find it right out of the gate. I am in no way insinuating that their success is unearned, although I fear it sounds like that. My advice here is simply a mindset to build for those who take more time to reach their goals for whatever reason.