Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Very Best Way to Get Rejected Every Time

I’ve been on a confidence kick lately. From my experience as a freelancer, I’ve learned that it takes more than good content to become a published writer. You have to learn how to stand up to rejection.

Get Rejected

Photo credit: Justin Taylor (Creative Commons)

When it comes to writing, you need a few things (other than talent) to succeed:

  • You need relationships.
  • You need connections.
  • You need to learn how to pitch.

When you’re getting started (at anything, really), you’re scared. You’re insecure. You don’t want to come off as some kind of arrogant jerk.

So what do you do? You say “no” for other people.

And this is absolutely the best way to get rejected.

Whether you’re applying for a job or asking someone out, you begin by assuming the answer is “no.” You lower your expectations. So that if the person does happen to say “yes” (which you know they won’t), you’re elated.

This is stupid and cowardly. But for some reason, we do it all the time. We shoot ourselves down before someone else can.

We call it humility. But really, it’s fear.

Fear makes us sabotage ourselves

We’re afraid of getting “shut down,” so we do it to ourselves. We do it so that someone else doesn’t have to. We begin with an apology or a you-don’t-have-to-clause. We say “no” long before we have to hear it.

That way, when the person does reject us, it’s no great disappointment. We were expecting it, after all. This is ludicrous, of course, but somehow we think we’re doing the person a favor by giving them an “out.”

Recently, I’ve received a number of requests for guest posts or getting together for coffee. Most have begun with a “You’re probably too busy” or “I know this won’t happen” statement.

I know why they’re doing this. They’re trying to take the pressure off, make it seem casual, like they don’t have too much vested in how I respond.

But I have to tell you: Such self-deprecation only makes me want to reject them even more.

I used to do this all the time, for no reason except that I was just plain “chicken.” But when I really started making big, audacious asks without apology or self-rejection, something strange happened. People said yes. 

And I realized I didn’t need to say “no” for other people. That was their job.

A radical idea that could change everything

What if you did something crazy? What if you stopped asking and started inviting?

Imagine if you believed that about your work, that you actually saw it as an amazing opportunity you were letting someone else in on. What would that change for you?

And if you can’t think of your “ask” in terms of opportunities that people wouldn’t want to miss, then maybe you need to focus on doing more remarkable work.

If your work is less than amazing, you should be scared to ask.

But don’t let that stop you. Use the fear to make the art better, to make the work worth noticing. Whatever you do, stop rejecting yourself before others can, believe in the work you’re called to do, and invite others to join you.

What’s the worst that could happen?

They could say, “no.” That’s it. That’s as bad as it gets. Sounds a lot scarier in your head, doesn’t it? And it’s really not that bad of a word, once you get used to it: no.

I hear it every day. In fact, I got rejected last night after pitching a website on an idea they initially liked but decided not to use. After two weeks of radio silence, they shot me down.

You know what I did?

First, I felt sorry for myself and started whining to other writers, looking for affirmation. But do you know what that did? Nothing.

It didn’t make me feel better, didn’t change my situation. It only reinforced my own sense of inadequacy. So I decided to do something constructive: to rewrite that piece.

I used rejection as fuel and got back to work.

Rejections are reminders

In facing all kinds of failure, I’ve learned an important lesson, one that’s made me grateful for the rejection I still experience every day:

If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not in the game.

If you aren’t failing, you’re not trying. If aren’t getting turned down, you’re not asking. And if you aren’t risking, you’re not living.

Time and time again, we read that success comes from failure. Yet, in our own lives, we avoid it like the plague. We play it safe, never risking too much. And our souls shrivel in the shadow of mediocrity.

If we’re going to stay in the game, here’s what we need to do:

  1. Stop avoiding failure.
  2. Stop fearing rejection. (Better yet, face your fears and don’t let them dictate how you live your life.)
  3. Put yourself out there every day.

Yes, you will get rejected. You will be turned down, shut down, or even fired. But every time, you will get stronger and better.

So remember that these rejections are reminders that what you’re doing is worth something. And that should be reason enough to keep going.

Do you say “no” for other people or reject yourself before they can? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • This post has certainly provided food for thought. It’s hard not to fear rejection. We all want to be liked, at least most of us do, but as you’ve suggested Jeff we need to get over it if we ever want to succeed. Not an easy thing to do, but i think your post has convinced me to be a little more bold in going after success. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Thank you for this post and thank you for reading everyone’s comments. It certainly is nice to get something off my chest, a bit selfish as it may seem. It’s hard when you see a good thing that you can certainly grow into and become good at it and benefit others and yourself from it … and it’s right there within your grasp but yet so far … Sorry for the depressing note. I’m sure everything shall resolve by tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes from there …

  • Penelope Silvers

    Hi Jeff, I used to do this–apologize for everything–until the “sorry” statement echoed back at me from someone else. Women are notorious for doing this, and it truly made me nauseous. From that moment forward, I vowed to ask for what I wanted–not apologize. People are usually very gracious–even if they do say no.

    • You’re right, Penelope. I’m learning the same thing. It’s just better and more fun to come out and say what you mean. Makes you be more clear about what you actually want.

    • Janna

      This was different from other things I’ve read. You are dead on. I agree with Penelope. Women ARE notorious for this. I am. I love your reframing of the idea of rejection as a catalyst for change. Thank you.

  • Honestly, I’ve never had a fear of rejection. I’ve been so happy to have something to submit to agents and publishers, I never thought about it.

  • I felt like this blog post was intended for me. This statement stood out, “stop rejecting yourself before others can.” I thank you for helping me to understand my flaws and I love your creative energy. Stay blessed.

  • Stevonski Rhoden

    I’ve always let fear of rejection and not writing well keep me from pursuing and sharing something I love. This site I’ve run across on this snow driven and ice driven March day has inspired me!

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    It inspire me to recharge my long unpublished post

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