How to make rejection a learning experience

What's the best way to deal with rejection? Use it as a motivator - and remember to give yourself a break!

How to make rejection a learning experience
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Resilience is a big part of being human, because rejection is such a common occurrence in our lives. People reject our opinions; our kids don’t eat the meals we cook, potential customers don’t buy our products; we don’t get picked for a team. Being ‘swiped left’ wasn’t invented by Tinder – it has always been with us.

So we have to live with it. How you face that rejection is what defines you. Both new and seasoned portfolio professionals can attest to the fact that rejection is just part of the journey. That’s because you’re constantly learning and trying new things. No one gets it 100% right the first time around. 

So the question remains – what is the best way to deal with rejection? And how can you avoid letting setbacks define your perception of self-worth?

The many benefits of getting rejected

Most of us feel upset when we get turned down for a pitch or a project; it’s a frustrating feeling that you failed, wasted your time, or might struggle to pay the bills. You’re ashamed that you didn’t impress enough to land the gig and that shame can turn into self-loathing, lack of confidence and even unsettled feelings of belonging.

Have you ever thought about all the wonderful things frustration can accomplish when you channel it the right way?

How to make rejection a learning experience

It’s all about how you frame the experience. Maybe not landing that job was a good thing because it gives you more time to focus on something else – something more valuable, or a better fit with your skills. Or perhaps your failed pitch helps you realise that you haven’t properly communicated your brand or your story and need to work on that.

Being rejected typically gives you some free time, because you didn’t land that job. You should use that time to examine why things didn’t go your way. Sometimes, that job just wasn’t the right fit. Other times, it comes down to little mistakes that can be easily remedied.

How to make rejection a learning experience
@ Jane O'Sullivan / The Portfolio Collective 2020

People say ‘feedback is a gift’ and they are right. Rejection is just a very clear form of feedback, which makes it a very BIG gift. So the next time you’re feeling down from a rejection, remember that it can actually:

  • Motivate you to do better
  • Teach you patience
  • Help you reflect on the gap between their needs and your offering
  • Provide fresh perspectives
  • Create new opportunities for trying something new
  • Make you reconsider your goals and explore different paths

How to cope with rejection in your portfolio career

You’re bound to get things wrong dozens of times in your career. In fact, it’s a more common experience than you might realise. Walt Disney was fired from a job for “lacking imagination” before launching his global empire. JK Rowling was turned down by twelve different publishers. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times before going off on his own. In other words, it’s about forging your own path and not letting other people’s opinions define you.

That’s not to say that feeling deflated after a rejection isn’t valid. By all means, experience those feelings. Then turn those feelings into positive motivators.

If you’re feeling discouraged and don’t know where to go next, there are a few techniques you can use to get the ambition flowing:

  • Practice positive reframing – Rejection doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Discover what you can learn from this experience and how you can use those insights to improve your pitch.
  • Give yourself a break – Sometimes the best medicine is just disconnecting. If the rejection is still raw, then take some time for yourself. Looking after your wellbeing is important, after all, and stepping away from a problem often allows for new insights and perspectives.
  • Reach out to your community for advice – We can guarantee that every single person at The Portfolio Collective has faced rejection in some form or another. Find out how they embraced the experience and learn from their stories.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback – Maybe you don’t actually know why you got rejected. Well, it never hurts to find out! Drop the client or interviewer a quick email asking for constructive feedback that can help you do better next time. Most people will be happy to help out.

The pain of rejection is part of what helps you survive

When you break a bone, it grows temporarily stronger. It’s a coping mechanism on the part of your body that allows the bone to heal. And though that bone will eventually return back to it’s normal levels of strength, there’s a wisdom that’s gained from the overall experience that keeps you from breaking it again.

The same can be said for those times in our lives when we’re faced with rejection—when a client turns us down, when we don’t get that dream job, when we fail to secure funding from a particular investor. 

According to a study published by the University of Michigan, rejection activates the same parts of your brain as pain. The sting you feel when you get turned down is a signal that something is diminished in your social wellbeing. That signal then activates a fight or flight response; either you pack it in, or you work harder for what you want.

Guy Winch, psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing, Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Every Day Hurts, explains the phenomenon in quite a concise way (unlike his book title). He writes that it’s “a legacy of our hunter-gather past” where “rejection served as an early warning system that alerted us we were in danger of being ostracized”. Those of us who experience rejection as painful tend to be more compelled to correct our behaviour, helping us perform better to avoid further feelings of rejection down the line.

How to make rejection a learning experience

It’s a simple case of survival of the fittest. The more you learn and adapt based on your experiences, the more successful you’ll be in your portfolio career. 

Resisting the toxic pull of self-deprecation

Most of the rejections we face aren’t personal, yet sometimes we assume that they are. Don’t. More often than not, it’s something impersonal, such as availability, price, location, specific skills, one small gap in your portfolio. The important thing is that you don’t let a fleeting moment of rejection knock you down completely.

It’s all part of the development process. One “no” can inspire a dozen “yeses”. It just takes a small spark of motivation to ignite a fiery passion in your gut. From there, the rest is up to you.

Has rejection been hitting you especially hard this year? There’s never been a better time to lean on your community. We’ve all dealt with knocks to our confidence and self-worth. Sharing these stories and experiences is what helps us realise we’re not alone.

If you’re looking for a better way to sell your services and skills, it might be time to join our Catapult Course. Find out more about what you can gain as part of our upcoming cohort.

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