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How To Prepare For Rejection

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

Sergei is a 40-year old startup CEO looking to raise his next round of funding. Beth is a 30-year-old technical writer considering changing jobs. Maggie is a college sophomore rushing a sorority.

What do they have in common? All of them will face rejection.

Each feels vulnerable because they are inviting scrutiny and judgment. And whether pitching a VC or interviewing for a job or rushing a sorority, rejection is inevitable.

There are numerous articles and blog posts about dealing with rejection after the fact. But when you are entering the job market or otherwise putting yourself in the path of rejection, here are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for the inevitable, cultivate your own resiliency and reduce your vulnerability to the roller-coaster of putting yourself out there:

  • Focus on “fit.” One way to insure yourself against being too rocked by a potential rejection is to remember that at the same time as you are being evaluated, you should also be sizing up whether the organization individual is a good match for you. Set some criteria for yourself and consider what questions you want to answer to help you make your decision. Sergei knew he wanted investors who would take a long view and would trust him. Beth was focused on good company culture and an experienced manager she could learn from. Maggie was looking for a supportive and fun community where she could be herself. Focusing on mutual fit rather than performance encourages you to identify your own needs and gives you agency, which reduces your vulnerability to disappointment.
  • Look for the learning. Think of any interview as a hypothesis that you are testing rather than an evaluation of your worth or the worth of your idea. How can your conversation help you learn about yourself, about an organization, about the market? If you look for learning opportunities, then no matter the outcome of the interaction, you can get value from it. By consciously adopting a growth mindset, you will likely be less triggered by rejection.
  • Adjust your expectations. You may need to kiss some frogs before you find your prince, or take a lot of at bats before you get on base. Networking expert Michael Melcher posits the 30:50:20 rule—30% of interactions will be really useful, 50% will be fine but unexciting, and 20% will be a waste of time. If you enter the process assuming that the majority will not be a match but may be useful, you will be less shocked and therefore less hurt by rejection. If one conversation or interview doesn’t go well, chances are that the next one will be better. To be clear, adjusting your expectations is not the same as assuming the worst. Cultivate an open, positive approach that is grounded in reality.
  • Face your fear. Rejection doesn’t kill you. It is uncomfortable and disappointing but entirely survivable. Yet many people’s fear of rejection leads them to hold back or avoid the risk that is required to move forward. You might even try overcoming your fear of rejection by deliberately collecting rejections, as Jason Comely, a lonely Canadian who was afraid to ask a woman for a date because of fear of rejection. He set out desensitize himself to rejection by deliberately seeking to be rejected at least once a day—asking for a stranger for a ride, a discount, a breath mint—to desensitize himself and raise his “rejection resilience.” It worked so well he made it a game.
  • Improve your targeting. One way to reduce the number of rejections is to do your homework to screen out unlikely matches. If you know that you lack important qualifications or that the organization’s mission is not aligned with your values, either eliminate them from your list or approach any interaction with realistic expectations and take it as an opportunity for learning. By targeting the right investors, Sergei can save himself a lot of time and needless rejection.
  • Cultivate self-compassion. Whether you are networking, job searching or raising capital, you will very likely experience highs (“Awesome—I aced that interview!”) and lows (“Crap—he hated my ideas!”) that can leave you feeling quite unsteady. Whatever comes your way, cultivating an inner voice that is self-compassionate and encouraging, rather than harsh and judgmental, will help you get back up when you are knocked down. Throughout the process, tune into your feelings and practice self-soothing techniques like breathing. It may be helpful to identify a phrase, similar to an affirmation or a mantra, that will help ground and steady you when you are at a low point. Some examples: I am safe and well in this moment; I’m ok without this person’s approval; each step is bringing me closer to my goal. Each of these invites you to keep the put of rejection in perspective and re-write your inner monologue.

Rejection is a natural byproduct of stretching yourself and pushing the limits. By definition, working toward a goal or choosing a new path involves going beyond the confines of your prior experience, and it inevitably carries a risk of failure. This is a good thing, so embrace it. If you never risk rejection or disappointment, you may be playing it too safe.