Taking the Bite Out of Rejection

Nobody wants to be rejected. It opens the door to discouragement, defeat and low self-esteem. Rejection can become the ultimate dream-killer for a person who hinges his success on someone else’s nod of acceptance.

Did you know that Agatha Christie experienced five years worth of rejections before a manuscript was accepted. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series) was rejected twelve times; and Louis L’Amour heard “no” two hundred times before he heard “yes” from a publisher.

Rejection gives us three choices: (1) Give up. (2) Try again. (3) Improve. One publisher rejected the first 100 pages of Peter Benchley’s book Jaws. Benchley started over from scratch and ended up selling 20 million copies! He chose door number three.

Recently I’ve become intrigued with the television show “Shark Tank” – where fledgling business people and entrepreneurs present their ideas/inventions before a panel of five “sharks” in hopes of luring them to make an investment for a percentage of their business. The risk of rejection is pretty high. Not only is the risk high–if the idea is rejected, it takes place before an audience of millions. As if that’s not enough, the shows are taped and rerun for the enjoyment of those who lick their chops over rejection left-overs.

The sharks are “self-made million/billionaires” who are ready to pounce on what smells like a lucrative opportunity. The testimonials that are shown periodically certainly indicate that those who are fortunate enough to land a deal really do fare well, thanks to the financial backing, experience and influence of the Shark. However, each investee who enters the Tank takes the risk of being humiliated by public rejection.

Someone said, “Rejection is an imperative test of one’s character.” Do we give up quickly and skulk away, crushed by words of criticism? Or, do we build on those words and make necessary adjustments to become the best person we can. A mentor once told me there are two types of criticism: Deserved and Undeserved. She said when receiving deserved criticism, take it to heart and learn from it. “But,” she continued, “If you receive undeserved criticism, don’t reject it. Instead, search for the tiniest tidbit of truth and do what you can to improve.”

Shark Tank admittedly exudes more entertainment than it does education. However, some valuable lessons about rejection have emerged from the Tank:

  • Cocky people don’t get deals. The sharks can be as snarky as they want; but, if they sense cockiness from an investee, they back off. Like the young arrogant guy who told the sharks he expected them to work as many hours a day as he did. Or the woman who constantly pushed back as the sharks tried to give their input about her clothing design. Who wants to work with an arrogant, unteachable partner? The sharks don’t.
  • Don’t give up. In one of the earlier seasons of Shark Tank, a man was turned down because, although his idea was great, he didn’t have enough information about the business end of his venture. He reappeared on the show a few seasons later and told the sharks, “When I was rejected last time, I walked out and held my head high, but I took your advice and worked on my numbers.” He began to rattle off percentages and dollar amounts that were so impressive, four of the sharks ended up fighting each other for a piece of the action. C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “Failures are fingerprints on the road to achievement.”
  • If you don’t believe in yourself, neither will anyone else. A few times, the sharks have made deals with people simply because they were impressed with the person’s enthusiasm over their own product. A teenager who created a cosmetic product and started a fledgling business was mildly mocked by one of the sharks because of her youth and inexperience. After four rejected her request, the last shark standing grabbed on to her enthusiasm and sealed a deal. “I really like your product,” he explained, “but more than that, I’m impressed with you and your attitude. I’m going to make you a millionaire.” And, he did!
  • Pressure is healthy. Imagine the tension of standing in front of a panel of potential investors with television cameras pointed at your face. On top of that, the sharks are peppering you with questions about your sales, gross profit, purchase orders, marketing strategies and other staggering subjects, expecting you to have it all memorized and ready to recite at the drop of a hat. The sharks want to see if a potential partner will fold under pressure. One nervous woman did fold, crying as she explained, “I’m just a housewife, you know. How can I do justice to this business when I also have to manage a house and a family?” The sharks swam the other way.

The chances of you or me appearing on Shark Tank are pretty slim. But, the chance of us wading through the shark tank of life are pretty definite. Learning lies in the midst of rejection. We can do a “dead man’s float” and let the waves of discouragement control our destiny. Or, we can accept the learning curve and swim to success.

Every one of life’s bites carries a valuable lesson. I think it’s worth being bitten, don’t you?