You’ve probably heard a million success stories (in business, love, or anything else), but what’s often left untold is the struggles that were encountered along the way. But as it turns out, perfection doesn’t pave the road to success; the difference between those who prosper and those who fail is perseverance. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to handle rejection in life, and to keep pushing forward instead of letting it get you down.
“So often people glamorize the journey to success both personally and professionally,” points out Sara Panton, CEO & Co-Founder of vitruvi, an essential oil and diffuser brand. “In reality, it’s just a long line of no’s and things not working out, with a few large leaps forward.”
Feeling discouraged lately? Read on. Ahead, five successful entrepreneurs share their stories and advice for overcoming rejection, which has served them in work and in life. From learning the value of resiliency, to maintaining perspective, to reframing your perception of rejection as a whole, these women have made mistakes, been discouraged, and moved on to lead thriving careers. Rejection is an inevitable part of life, but with some strategies and encouragement, you’ll be able to keep rolling with the punches.
1. Remember: It’s About Persistence, Not Perfection
When it comes to success stories, seldom do you hear about the errors that were made along the way. But as it turns out, perfection is not the measure of success; it’s persistence. “When I started formulating my product line, I made a ton of mistakes,” admits Tami Blake, founder of Free + True, a natural skincare line. “I could have easily given up, but I didn’t. It took 100 bad batches to come up with the winning formulation, but you learn quickly from mistakes and adjust. If I’d given up one batch too soon, I’d never be where I am today. You need to have the grit to keep moving forward.”
2. Search For The “Yes”
Panton learned first-hand that withstanding countless “no’s” is key to finding the elusive “yes.” “When we first started the business, we ran it without funding and without a backup plan,” she recounts. “Our wholesale business grew by me emailing and calling boutique stores and large retailers everyday for months on end. For every 20 people saying ‘no,’ one person would say ‘yes’. It was a numbers game.
“I remember one large retailer saying ‘no’ over and over again, and I would feel horrible emailing them every two months to check in. Fast forward a year later when we had traction, press features, and a following. They called our wholesale team and asked to place a larger order. They have since become one of our largest partners. It’s all about timing.”
3. Consider Rejection An Opportunity, Not A Roadblock
“Rather than call it ‘rejection,’ I prefer to say ‘not right now,'” says Blake. “From my experience, something better always comes along. The timing has to be right for the stars to align.”
Alix Peabody, founder of Bev, a rosé brand, has even learned to welcome the “no’s” that come her way. “In my industry, you drink rejection for breakfast!” she jokes. “I’ve actually come to like being turned away from time to time, because I’ve learned how to turn rejection into fuel. What used to drain me now energizes me, because I’ve built such strong conviction in what I’m doing.”
4. Advocate For What You Believe In
“Rejection is a pressure test for conviction,” Peabody continues. “The more rejection you face, the more conviction you must have to continue. Over time, if the rejection hasn’t beaten you, then you’re becoming stronger as a result of it; there’s no substitute for trusting your instincts.”
Shelby Wild, founder and CEO of Playa, a natural hair care company, recalls the obstacles she faced in early days of her business. “For the first year I was working on Playa, I would consistently call and reach out to niche retailers where I thought we’d be a fit,” she says. “No one was really interested in the brand. Things took a while to really ramp up and I could’ve easily lost momentum, but I had real faith in the products and brand I had created. Once we had our first product developed, the Pure Dry Shampoo, the rest of our original five SKUs fell into place and we ended up launching with really great distribution in key retailers like Violet Grey.”
5. Learn To Be Resilient
“Both in business and in life, resiliency and a positive outlook is important,” Wild advises. “Now that I’ve dealt with rejection, I have the knowledge and experience to take a step back from a tough situation and take a few deep breaths instead of immediately reacting and freaking out. There will be very high highs and very low lows, but if you continue to believe in yourself and what you’re doing, you’ll achieve your goals.”
“One thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that I must be comfortable being very uncomfortable,” says Amy Nelson, founder and CEO of The Riveter, which provides co-working and office spaces across the country. “I’ve pitched to – and heard ‘no’ from – over 150 investors who I wanted to join me in growing The Riveter. One particular example that stands out is a potential investor telling me that my vision wasn’t ‘big enough.’ It was so hard to hear. And I know it isn’t true. We have an enormous vision and incredible drive, and I know we will succeed.”
6. Don’t Lose Perspective
It’s essential to maintain perspective by keeping the important things in life at the forefront of your mind; otherwise, the negativity can consume you. Like many entrepreneurs, Nelson says her family is what keeps her going through the tough days.
“Being a mother of three small children (soon to be four!) puts everything in perspective,” she says. “I can’t afford to let feelings of defeat take up too much headspace when I have to think about my children and their immediate needs. We are often told a narrative that motherhood is a weakness, but I see it as a strength. It’s put things in perspective for me and taught me to be very direct. It’s changed my perspective on so much.”