Using Rejection as a Tool for Success

Few of us like it and most of us will try to avoid it at all costs. It is inherent in risk-taking, a bedfellow of failure but, if we learn to use it wisely, it can be a key to our success.

So, how can you learn to relish rejection, and even turn it to your advantage?

My History with Rejection.

The arts is a hard place to make a living. There’s little money to go around, the modes of applying for funding are typically outdated and ill-suited, and the ‘you-get-to-do-what-you-love’ rhetoric brings little solace when you are living the poor artist cliché.

Even beyond the arts, getting by as a freelancer or small business is extremely challenging. Rising to a point of genuine security or comfort often seems far away for all but the most successful.

Part of the challenge of these endeavours is dealing with the volume of rejections you receive. Over time, being told you only just missed out, didn’t quite fit the bill, or were on the short list comes as little encouragement. When you are basing your work and livelihood on success rather than being-not-quite-right, these rejections can grind you down pretty quickly.

After several years of getting steadily shorter, I decided to try to create a career that could support my arts practice. I aimed to become, essentially, my own patron.

Sometimes continuing with what seems to be a very lonely pursuit is hard enough.

How I Tried to Avoid Rejection.

When I began in the freelance world of copywriting and proofreading, I thought things might be a little easier.

Rejection might become an occasional speed bump rather than a hopelessly pot-holed road of rejections and knock-backs. Better yet, I might even learn to avoid rejection entirely.

So, why did I think such naive thoughts?

With good reason: there’s the succinct and tangible nature of the copywriting service list that attempts to make everything clear, concise and commodified; there’s the marketplace that already understands the value of copywriting and is willing to pay for it; and there are established freelance networks that make connecting to clients seem like a matter of simply switching on the computer.

But guess what? Wherever you go, you cannot avoid rejection.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in reaching this conclusion. In fact, trying to avoid it is missing the point.

How to Use Rejection – Japanese-style.

In Life’s A Pitch, author Philip Broughton describes Mrs Shibata. She recounts being “rejected 98 times in-a-row” trying to sell life insurance. But if you think this humiliating record caused Mrs Shibata to quit, think again.

Today, she is one of Japan’s top insurance salespeople. In fact, she has learned “to enjoy the hard situations”.

Rather than attempt to avoid rejection, what we freelancers must learn to do is embrace rejection as a vital part of our learning curve.

Rather than fear rejection and be confused when it leads us along paths we hadn’t foreseen, we must consider it a valuable mentor. It turns out, rejection can be our best teacher.

It may not always seem the most direct route, but every rejection is an invitation to keep going.

How to Turn Rejection to Your Advantage.

  • Feedback gives focus

It’s not always easy to see why something is rejected; neither is it always something you’ve done wrong. But taking each rejection as a chance to review, take stock and see how you could improve ensures that each rejection brings you value going forward.

Do a self-review and ask yourself some questions:

  • Was what I offered precisely what the client was required or requested?
  • Did I really speak precisely to the wants of the client and benefits of my service?
  • Does what I offer exceed the quality produced by similar freelancers, and if not, how do I strive to achieve this?

Feedback from clients helps this process enormously, of course. Whether they said yes or no, try to glean why they made their decision. Every bit of information can help you understand your market better so you can find your place within it.

  • Become a Critical Customer

Look at the application or work that got rejected. Is it really too good to refuse? Clearly not, so find out why.

You don’t even have to wait for a rejection to do this. Imagine yourself as a potential client working in a field that you, the freelancer, would want to offer your services to. I might imagine myself the director of a marketing agency, for example.

I would list all that I believe a marketing director would need from and value in a freelance copywriter. What balance of creative flair or workmanlike competence is desirable? Would they want a jack-of-all or a specialist expert? What’s more important: an impressive portfolio, a grammar-perfect application or both?

From this, I ask myself how I can adopt these desirable qualities by up-skilling or changing my approach. Then I test them out on my next applications. If they work and I get hired, great; if not, I repeat the role-play having gained a little more information. Whatever happens, I know I am moving forward.

Reaching out to do this process with fellow freelancers is a valuable way for the whole community of freelancers to grow together. This benefits all of us.

  • Be yourself.

Easy to say, not always easy to do. But do you know what most clients really want? Bonafide authenticity.

But why would this be such a crucial element in learning from rejection? Firstly, it is your uniqueness as an individual that will make you stand out from the crowd, and the rewards you will receive are unique to you too.

Secondly, working from who you really are ensures that you always work from the strong foundations of your own moral and ethical values. When a rejection hits, it will be these foundations that help you stay determinedly on your feet.

Even with these positive intentions in mind, let’s be honest: rejection isn’t easy for any of us. But it doesn’t need to wear us out either. As Mrs Shibata might tell us: “even when you’re in a devastating situation, it’s a step forward to what has to be a better time.”

Strong foundations of optimism, perseverance and a keen sense that each rejection holds a lesson within it will have you (almost) welcoming your next rejection – and the step forward it heralds.


One thought on “Using Rejection as a Tool for Success

  1. I like that quote from the japanese saleswoman. The tough times really are the fun times, we forget that the process is more important than the endpoint.

    I personally take rejection as a speedy way of knowing that this was not gonna go anywhere. My energy is best spent on a different pursuit.


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