Have you ever walked down the street and someone with a clipboard has asked you, “Do you have a minute for __________ charity?” Have you ever stopped? That’s okay, most people don’t.
In fact, about only one in five people stop for street canvassers. How do I know? That was my job for a summer. (PS – Quote me cautiously on that number. It’s only from personal experience.) In college, I thought I might want to work in non-profits and thought this would be a good experience with fundraising. Boy, was I right and then some.
Not only did I get comfortable asking for money for causes I believe in, I also got really comfortable with being rejected. Tons of people wouldn’t even acknowledge me on the street and when they did, it was often a curt, “No.”
While I doubt “street canvasser” is a job any of you are working toward, and not a job I want to do again, I’m grateful I learned to handle rejection (and how not to take it personally) early on. Because the thing is, you’re not always going to have the best idea in the room. And you’re not always going to be right. And even when you are, sometimes your ideas still won’t be possible, and then the rejection beast rears its head again. We’re all afraid of the tiniest word, “no.”
It’s inevitable. Everyone gets rejected and everyone fails. Big and small. If you are trying to avoid failure and rejection, you’ll fail anyway. And what’s worse, you won’t really get anywhere.
We all learn from failure. If no one tells you when you’ve made a mistake, or how you could have done better, how will you grow? How will you get better? Sometimes, we have to know what not to do, before we can know what the right thing is.
It’s never going to be fun, but if you are someone who’s ego needs to be taken down a few pegs, this can help ground you. One of the things that social scientists have learned over the years is that people consistently overestimate their contribution on successes (and underestimate them on failures). The more you put yourself out there to hear “no” (and maybe “yes”), the more you will have a realistic picture of what you bring to the table.
But I’m not here to convince you that failing is fun. That’s not true, but I do know it’s worth it.
By demystifying rejection and getting comfortable with it, you’ll be able to take more chances. While you may get a lot more “no’s” from some more outlandish ideas, it will also free you up to think more creatively and stand out as a problem solver on your team.
Don’t just let this type of rejection find you when it happens to. Put yourself in a position to hear the word “no” more often. Whether it’s at the office or at home (or just asking for the wrong thing at a restaurant), you may find yourself feeling lighter without having to carry around that fear of being wrong.
PS – Also put yourself in a position where you know you’ll succeed. It’s good to feel good about yourself. Know what you’re good at and pat yourself on the back for it. I’m all about that balance.
Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).