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Overcoming Fear of Rejection

By Marty Nemko

Maybe I’m nuts but I don’t much mind rejection. I know it’s normal to get rejected 10, 20, 40 times before I may need to get the message I’m barking up the wrong tree.

I developed my thick skin from being unattractive to women. When I was single, I’d have to ask a half dozen out before one would deign say yes. I was really motivated so I kept asking the women for feedback and male friends for advice. Most important, I kept asking more women out. And each time, I was less anxious to ask and less hurt when rejected. You just get used to it. And, of course, with all that preparation and practice, I got rejected ever less often. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

After a rejection, I did (and don’t) allow myself a nanosecond of anger or self-pity. Why? Because I know it can bring me down into inertia. So, as soon as I get a rejection, I use my disappointment to fuel me to think, “I’ll show her.” and immediately find someone else to pitch to.

My first book was rejected 18 times before a publisher said yes, yet it went on to win the American School Board Association’s award as one of the year’s ten best books.

I still get rejected all the time. For example, when I submit an article for publication, I know that even though I’ve already had 400 articles well-published, the odds of getting a yes are small. So, I usually send each article to 30 likely suspects. In the end, one or two say yes at which point all the rejections feel irrelevant.

Keep pitching, changing your approach as you get feedback, until you sense you’d better change goals. Maybe you’re going after too crowded a field? Too high-level a job? Too cute a woman? Too prestigious a publication? Or maybe your idea is truly stupid. Like the Kenny Rogers song says, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.”

Here are other cures for fear of rejection that have worked for my clients:

Sure you want a yes? I have clients who don’t try to land a job and claim it’s fear of rejection. But on probing, deep down, they prefer staying home and having their spouse support them.

Realize that only losers avoid rejection. Imagine two job seekers. One so fears rejection that he doesn’t apply for jobs. The other candidate applies, and after each rejection, calls the employer and says what John Kador recommended in an article:

I got your letter saying you won’t be making me an offer and I accept the decision. I need to improve my interviewing skills and would love to get your help. Please tell me what I could have done better.

Which of those two job seekers do you think will get a good job faster?

Reduce your chances of being rejected. Prepare yourself before pitching. For example, role play with a friend, be sure your work sample is strong, read an article, etc.

Play reverse psychology on yourself. Give a friend $100 and say something like, “Unless I get ten rejections today, you keep the money.” That creates reverse psychology: you’re now trying to get rejected. That can inure you to rejection’s pain and help you realize you’ll survive ten rejections in a row. And not fearing rejection, you’ll probably get a yes faster.

Don’t expect to be anxiety-free. You’ll probably always be a bit nervous when pitching. Feel the fear and do it anyway. A little anxiety can actually help you perform better.

Remember that a “yes” is exhilarating. Think positive. I promise you, even if it takes 40 nos to get to one yes, that one yes will erase memories of the nos.

Stop worrying about what others think of you. Keep searching for someone who will accept you for who you are: more or less humorous, more or less intelligent, liberal or conservative. In the end, you must, above all, be true to yourself.

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