Embrace Rejection and Failure

It is no great revelation that people do not like to fail or be rejected. Rejection and failure suck. Some people fear rejection and failure so much that they would rather not exist than experience it.

Should you avoid rejection and failure then?

Au contraire, not only should you accept rejection and failure, you should learn to embrace it. Because, in this life, you will succeed in proportion to the amount of rejection and failure you experience. And career success is no exception. Here’s why:

Rejection and failure are byproducts of taking action

Taking action is a prerequisite to success. But when you do things, you may experience rejection and failure. Perhaps you don’t get the job that you interviewed for. Or you fail a certification exam after months of intense study. Whatever it may be, you will eventually encounter both if you habitually take action.

The alternative is to never do anything. You won’t experience failure, but you will also never experience success.

Rejection and failure are more common at the limits

Rejection and failure are byproducts of taking action, but even more so when you are pushing your personal limits. By definition, your limit is the dividing line between what you can and cannot do. When you’re taking action at that level, sometimes you overstep it. That’s when you fail, but that’s also how you grow.

You know what’s a great way to never fail a lift? Take your personal record and divide by ten. If you can deadlift 450, stick with lifting only the bar. Bam, you will never, ever fail. You’ll also never get stronger.

If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.

James Cameron

Rejection and failure reveal your limits

How do you know where your limit is if you never experience rejection or failure? You don’t.

Negotiations are a game of imperfect information. Your potential buyer has a price range in mind, with a lower and an upper bound. The upper bound is the price that the buyer will not pay more than. The buyer won’t tell you what that upper bound is though.

If the prices you quote are constantly accepted, you are not gaining any information. You already know where the lower bound is – it’s zero, i.e. free.1Exceptions include US domestic oil in April 2020. But how close to the upper bound are you? Are you getting the maximum that you could get? Or are you leaving piles of cash on the table?

In the above scene, the Diveroli and Packouz are fortunate that the procurement officers couldn’t help but share how laughably low their bid was. If they hadn’t, the boys would have continued to severely underbid their work. Their packaging guy, Enver, was not as fortunate:

It is decidedly not good if your salary asks are all accepted without question. You’re probably asking for too little.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.


To wit, success is a result of taking action. If you take action, you will eventually fail. You are even more likely to fail if you take action at the boundary of your ability, which is necessary for growth. Thus, not only are failure and rejection necessary for success and growth, you will succeed and grow at the rate at which you experience failure and rejection.

If you still hesitate to fail or put yourself up for rejection, consider that…

You’ve already been rejected

Realize that you cannot avoid rejection by not taking action. Doesn’t make sense at first, does it? How can you be rejected if you don’t ask for anything? Really think about it though. If you don’t ask, the answer is already no. You have, in effect, rejected yourself. It might be a yes if you ask, but it’s definitely no if you don’t.

You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.

Wayne Gretzky

The next time you are afraid to interview for a better job because you might be rejected, remind yourself that your worst case scenario has already happened:

Every time you go on an audition, you are gambling with house money, right? From the minute you walk in: you don’t have a job. To the minute you walk out and you don’t have the job: nothing is different. The only thing that could be different is: you get the job.

George Clooney

So tell yourself that you’ve already failed. That you’ve already been rejected. And then go out there and actualize those failures and rejections until they start becoming successes and acceptances.

Photo by Gemma Evans

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I needed to read this. This is a necessary outlook for avoiding stagnation which the vast majority of people suffer from.

    1. Absolutely. And it’s one of those things that is not enough to merely know. It’s something we have to remind ourselves of often. It’s like gratitude. Everyone knows that being grateful is key to being happy. But we forget because we’re hardwired to be ungrateful. So we have to meditate on it.

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