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Why Rejection is Good For You, and How to Learn From It

by Marianne Stenger
Posted: August 04, 2014

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Everyone faces rejection at some point in their career, and most successful writers and authors had to overcome more than just a few rejections before they finally made it big.

For years J.K. Rowling struggled to get by on welfare while she worked on her first Harry Potter book. When she finally found a publishing house willing to take her on, she was told she had very little chance of making money writing children’s books and was advised to get a day job.

Rudyard Kipling was told he didn’t know how to use the English language; Stephen King almost gave up writing after his first novel was rejected no less than 30 times; Dr. Seuss’s work was considered ‘too different’; and Beatrix Potter had to self-publish her first book because no publisher would take it.  

Clearly, rejection doesn’t have to be the end – and in fact, it’s usually just the beginning.

Research shows that rejection can actually make you more creative. As long as you don’t let it get you down, it can actually help you move forward in your career.

A study from Cornell and John Hopkins University found that rejection can amplify feelings of distinctiveness and increase creativity by encouraging people to move beyond existing knowledge structures and look for ideas in unconventional places.

In other words, rejection can help you think outside the box and find your own path rather than going with the flow and conforming to mainstream expectations.

Of course, if you really want your rejections to propel you forward, it’s important to be willing to learn from them. Sometimes it may just be a matter of pushing through and trying harder, but most of the time there are areas to improve in.

Here are a few tips for making the most of every rejection.

Try to view it objectively

Rejection can feel like a slap in the face, especially when you’ve put a lot of time and effort into a project. Research has shown that the pain of rejection is just as real as physical pain, and activates the same regions in the brain as painful sensory experiences.

With this in mind, it certainly makes sense that most of us find rejection difficult to accept, but although it can feel personal, most of the time it really isn’t.

Recruiters, publishers and editors deal with hundreds of requests and pitches in any given week, and often have to choose from a group of equally qualified candidates based on the limited amount of information available to them.

A “no” doesn’t mean you aren’t talented, and it doesn’t mean you’ll never be successful. All it really means is that one person didn’t think you were right for that one job or publication, so don’t let it stop you from trying.

Ask for feedback

This is the quickest way to figure out what you’re doing wrong and how you can improve. Of course, it isn’t always possible to get feedback, especially considering that often the only indication that you’ve been rejected is the fact that you haven’t heard anything at all.

But whenever you have the opportunity to do so, ask for some feedback on how you can improve your chances the next time around. Depending on how you were rejected, you could do this in person, over the phone or in an email.

When asking for feedback, make it clear that you’re not challenging the decision, but rather that you are looking for ways to improve and grow.

If it’s not possible to get feedback directly from the person who rejected you, you can always look for it elsewhere. For instance, you could ask a friend to read your manuscript, critique your interview techniques or review your resume for any obvious flaws.

Listen to criticism

It’s easy to dismiss criticism or close yourself off to it with thoughts like “well they don’t really know what they’re talking about”. But when you do this, you could miss out on some important lessons.

Even when criticism is given in an abrupt or even rude way, it’s usually still possible to learn something from it, so try not to let your emotions get in the way.

A study from the University of California shows that people who are better at controlling their impulses are less vulnerable to rejection, so by improving attention control skills, you can counter the negative effects of rejection and will be in a much better position to learn from it.

When listening to criticism, try to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. Figure out what parts of the criticism are useful and apply to you, and then focus on those points and filter out the rest.

It also helps to take those actionable points and write them down in your own words, as this can help you to look at it objectively rather than emotionally, and will also give you some clear goals to work toward.


Marianne Stenger

Marianne is a London-based freelance Writer and Journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central.

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