Living Well: Moving Forward After Hearing “No”

In order to have the life we want, we often create vision boards and action plans to make our dreams come true. Determining what we want and then charting a course to get there is natural and often extremely effective. It’s how we graduate with a degree that helps us land our ideal job, decorate our home, or even run a half-marathon.

But what about when we go full steam and we get turned down, denied, left out, or simply told, “No,” regarding some aspect of our dream? What about when we go for what we want and it doesn’t happen? This could be in the form of a job that we didn’t land, a lover that ended things, or the school that rejected our application.

I believe that those pivotal no’s come into our life for a reason—perhaps not for a reason we may understand in the present moment, but one that will unfold over time.

Instead of looking at a discouraging response to a dream as a simple no, we can translate that dead end word into more productive phrases like “not this way,” “not right now,” or “not what will make us truly fulfilled.” Here’s how these three positive aspects of looking at a negative setback can really launch us back on our intentional path, or maybe even a better path than we ever imagined.

Not This Way

When we hear the word No regarding something we care deeply about, it’s easy to get discouraged. But the truth is that there may be a very good reason for the no we received. Perhaps there is some other opportunity out there that has yet to present itself. Had we received a yes in this case right away, we would never reach the even better offer waiting for us somewhere in the future.

Trusting that this setback is leading us to some different future success can help us step back and approach the situation anew with a bigger, more enlightened perspective.

Not Right Now

Hearing No to an opportunity could also indicate the thing we desire is not off limits forever, it’s just not right in this moment.
In these cases, it’s best to keep our chins up and just keep going. Perseverance and determination are essential to building a life we love. And if it’s meant to be, it will happen eventually. We just have to continue to get up each morning and pursue that goal step by step.

Not What Will Make You Truly Fulfilled

This last interpretation of an important No can be pretty hard to grasp in the heat of the moment. After we’ve worked hard for something we care about and receive a rejection, it can feel impossible to imagine that there is any way that we might not really want it after all.

I myself felt devastated after a boyfriend and I broke up a three-and-a-half year relationship. At the time, I had no idea why that relationship was not meant to be in my future. However, I can now say that I have since met my husband, and I still feel so thankful for that previous relationship. Meanwhile, I’m also extremely happy that I get to share my life with my husband now. What I thought I wanted at the time of the break up was not what I now want, and I am grateful because that previous No led me to so much current joy.

Perhaps the trickiest part of positively interpreting an important No is figuring out which of those three “No” phrases apply to a specific situation. It can feel like a mystery sometimes. The best thing to do when the No occurs is to think of all three no phrases and imagine the different outcomes that might occur. During that reflection, you may discover that your intuition will guide you to the right response.

If the meaning behind the No doesn’t become clear right away, you can also continue to re-frame the No and accept, with faith, that it is going to lead to something great in your future. You are meant to thrive and grow as a person. Setbacks are often the launching points for fantastic new adventures and deeper empathy. It’s all about how we approach them that determines the quality of our life.

Read other Living Well columns:
What to Do When You Don’t Yet Know Your Purpose
Three Tips to Balance Your Work and Personal Life
Use Your Intuition to Make Big Life Decisions

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. This post was contributed by Jess Lively, an accessories designer in Chicago and owner of Jess LC. When she’s not designing, you can find her blogging about designing a life with intention at