"I can do anything you need, just don't make me ask for money."
As a nonprofit and fundraising professional, I can't tell you how many incredibly brilliant people I've met who were terrified to ask others for donations. I was recently compiling a report of how much our team had raised for the year compared to how much we'd requested. Despite having raised millions for worthy causes over my career, it dawned on me that I've inadvertently become an expert in being rejected. Fundraising is both an art and a science, but you also have to develop skills of resilience to bounce back when requests don't go your way, and learn to move forward undaunted to the next appeal. My victory is less in raising millions of dollars and more in getting that result despite being told "no" countless times. So how can you learn to lessen the pain of rejection?
1. Be grateful for an answer.
Have you ever had to deal with someone who gave you the runaround or made empty promises with no follow-through? Sometimes people can waste your most valuable asset - your time - because they don't want to have an uncomfortable conversation. Instead of telling you "no," they hope you read between the lines of un-returned messages, unanswered emails, and no response. While it may not be the result you were hoping for, being given a decision allows you to move on and find the right fit instead of trying to force something that's not meant to be. Check out this past blog post about how "no" can be a gift!
2. Plan how you'll react before you ask.
Thinking ahead not only helps you acknowledge and prepare for the different outcomes that could result, it can help take the emotion out of your reaction. One of the hardest parts of rejection is feeling disappointed. We usually let our minds wander to the best case scenario and don't anticipate what it will be like if that result fails to happen. Proactively considering all possible outcomes along with what you'll do to take care of yourself forces you to think outside your own perspective. You're more likely to see the factors that play into the situation, which also makes rejection less personal.
Consider the example of being asked to prepare a pitch for an important client your company is trying to land. Before you present, think about what you will do if you land the deal. Are you looking forward to telling your team of co-workers who worked hard to develop the proposal? Will you celebrate with drinks after work? Will you take a night off from cooking and go out to eat? Treat yourself by watching a favorite TV show that night? Now consider what will happen if you don't get the business. Will you take your team out for drinks to celebrate a hard-fought effort? Will you go out to eat or treat yourself to a massage that weekend? Visualizing your reaction to different scenarios in advance helps lessen the sting of the rejection simply because you knew it was a possibility, and you've already got a plan in place for how to take care of yourself.
3. Just because it felt personal doesn't mean it was.
Being passionate about what you do is a beautiful thing, but that can make it hard to detach from decisions that don't go your way. Make a list of all the reasons a particular "no" could have happened. Pretty quickly you'll see how many factors had nothing to do with you, the quality of your work, or the worth of your ideas. Things like budgets, policies, and the competition may not be exciting but they can present real challenges that aren't always possible to overcome. Don't beat yourself up for not being able to move mountains.
4. Walk through the valley...but don't camp out there.
Being prepared for rejection doesn't make it painless. The hurt will never fully go away no matter how many times you've failed. You need to feel and process those emotions, but give yourself boundaries for doing so. I abide by the 24 hour rule. I give myself permission to throw a 24 Hour Pity Party, meaning that if I'm really upset I'll allow myself to be down for the rest of the day. I'll eat ice cream, complain, and be disappointed without looking for the lesson learned in the situation.
As someone who draws a great deal of my strength and resilience from my faith, I'm comforted to know that God promises there will be low points where we walk through valleys of challenges, frustration, and disappointment. So many people find themselves in these places and give up. They resign themselves to the status-quo. As Joel Osteen says, instead of walking through the valley, they decide to camp out and stay there. Each of us has little control over whether we end up in these difficult times, but we do control whether or not we keep moving forward. Moving forward, even in pain, is still progress. When faced with rejection you have one simple choice - keep going, or give up. The world needs you and your ideas too much for you to quit just because a few people may not have the same vision as you. Keep going until you find the people who do.
5. Keep perspective by giving what you were needing.
Some of the frustration caused by rejection comes from feeling out of control. Take back your power and be a blessing to others! If you wrote a grant request that was denied, ask your favorite charity what you can do to help them. If you weren't offered the dream job you applied for, volunteer to tutor a child or mentor a young professional. Not only does getting a different perspective help you re-frame your perceptions of your circumstances, nothing makes you feel good like doing good!
Just like athletes build muscle memory, the more you endure rejection and come out stronger on the other side, the easier it gets. Soon your skin will thicken to the point where you can ask for constructive feedback or take criticism calmly! These are amazing superpowers that will allow you to chart your own path to success, and it all starts with getting used to failing.