Learning how to deal with rejection

  • October 9, 2020
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 2 minute read

Anne He, BSBA 2022, wrote this for the Olin Blog. She is studying finance and sociology.

In business, we face rejection all the time. We may be rejected from a job, a customer may reject our product, the list goes on. Entrepreneurs famously tell stories about the hundreds of rejections that lead up to a single success. It’s clear that dealing with rejection and coming out on top is not only important but necessary to excel in business.

Even knowing this, I am still afraid of rejection. When someone tells me, “No,” my first instinct is to immediately nod, say, “No worries, I understand,” and try to forget about it as soon as possible.

During my freshman year, after making it all the way to the last round of interviews for my dream summer internship, I was rejected. I did not get the job. I quickly became frustrated with my lack of assertion, and my inability to turn rejection into something positive.

Inspiration from a Ted Talk

That’s when I stumbled across what has become one of my favorite Ted Talks, Jia Jiang’s “What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection.” The idea was simple: overcome the fear of rejection by completing a list of tasks that would be certain to face rejection. Sleep at Mattress Firm, take pictures with strangers, borrow $100 from a stranger, etc. When told “no,” the goal was to question the rejection and find ways to circumvent it. 

I embarked on this challenge last summer by creating my own list of tasks based on my experiences. Thus began a summer of asking the barista if I could come around the counter and make my own coffee, trying on a stranger’s stylish jacket and asking time after time if I could have a phone call with random professionals.

Practicing rejection

The first time, I had to have a friend physically push me toward the confused barista. Over time, my thought process started to shift toward, “What can I lose?”

The more tasks I accomplished, the less hesitant I became to complete the next one.  

Anne He

It’s a silly challenge and I had lots of laughs while doing it, but it’s made a monumental impact on the way I respond to rejection. If I meet an Uber driver who has had an interesting career path, my first instinct is to ask for advice and a future phone call. If a recruiter says “no” to my application, my response is no longer “I understand,” but rather “How can I improve?” 

Fear of rejection has prevented me from taking opportunities that could be the start of new passions and journeys. When I returned to WashU in the fall, I was ready to apply myself to new roles like joining Bear Studios, LLC or becoming executive vice president of Student Union.

These experiences seemed like a far-reaching dream only a year ago and are now a reality. Rejection should never be feared but used as an opportunity for exploration and growth. 

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

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