The Sweet Sting of Rejection

I love chocolate-covered pretzels for their salty-sweet deliciousness. Rejection has similar contrasting qualities for me. At first it feels like salt in an open wound, then it almost always turns into something sweet later down the line. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t love getting rejected, but I don’t hate it either. In fact, part of me kind of likes it.

If I get rejected, I know I tried. I put myself out there. I know I can stand tall and later say, “their loss!” (you know…the classic heartbreak recovery line).

“All great innovations are built on rejections.”
βˆ’Louis Ferdinand Celine

A Few of My Favorite (hah – I only say that now) Rejections

The examples below are three of my most memorable rejections. Badges of honor. In one sense I am still baffled by them, but in another I know that they helped me get to know myself better and make other plans, proud that at least I put myself out there. (My friend Srinivas Rao wrote a post recently called “8 Failures that Have Led Me to Where I’m at Today” – a great read along similar lines)

  • Colleges – My senior year of high school, after I won the California Journalist of the Year award (and made it as a national finalist), I got rejected from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. I also got rejected from every East Coast school I applied to. So much for my dream of being a journalist and/or moving across the country. I absolutely loved UCLA (it led to the start-up that led to this blog), but a part of me still feels incomplete never having lived outside of California.
  • My bookit got turned down by 27 different publishers before I got an offer. They all had their reasons, but the most popular were: my topic was too generic and had no “hook,” my platform wasn’t big enough, my audience doesn’t buy books, it won’t sell past graduation season, and the “after college” market is too competitive. Each rejection stung a little bit, and the compound effect of hearing about rejection after rejection was discouraging, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I kept the faith because I knew that it would just take one offer. And I couldn’t be happier with the one that I got.

My dad has a dating theory that men should get rejected once per day – it means they are doing their due diligence of putting themselves out there. Just like the saying “do something each day that scares you,” maybe we should all risk rejection in some way at least once per day.

Stings So Sweet: The Bite and the Aftermath

In the first few moments (or more), rejection stings. It sucks. My stomach drops. I feel overcome by disappointment. Sometimes I feel embarrassed, or I question my abilities and my worth. I wonder if I was crazy to think whatever I was going for had a chance of success. I wonder if I should have even tried in the first place. A mini-dream is deflated.

But then things turn around. I start to chalk it up to eliminating one more bad fit. I might even smile a little bit. I am one step closer to finding the right path, the one I am meant to be on. I get another “I tried” badge, and I have more stories to tell. Maybe the rejecting party knows something I don’t about why it wouldn’t have worked out. Or maybe they screwed up and couldn’t recognize a good thing when they had the chance. “How could this happen?” turns into “YOU want to reject ME?” which leads to “I’ll show you…” — and it gives me even more motivation to succeed.

The Bottom Line:

How boring would life be if we got everything we wanted all of the time? Look how well that worked out for Veruca Salt.

So lift a glass (or a cupcake) and let’s celebrate. To any rejections you’ve racked up – past or present – CHEERS!


P.S. Congrats to Hayley who won the Suze Orman Road to Wealth book giveaway!

  • Great post! I love the idea of toasting our rejections. So much better than the alternative of pouting, boozing, or just generally self destructing.

  • What a great post! I feel like, no matter who you are, you've faced rejection at some point in your life. Reading this would make anyone realize that, much as it sucks sometimes, rejection is a part of life — and being rejected doesn't mean that someday awesome things won't happen for you!

  • Absolutely! Your rejections are as important as your successes (well, mine are!) I hadn't thought of them as 'I tried' badges before though, and I like that idea. A shiny 'I tried' badge is definitely something to be proud of, and thinking of gaining a booty of attempt badges actually inspires me to try more risky things. That can only be a good thing.

    Rejections, by their nature, mean that the outcome of the situation is not always in your complete control; another person or company is involved in the decision making process. You can bring everything you have to the table; you can give the best interview of your life; you can offer them the world's best business proposal, and they turn you down. Outrageous! You rack your brain trying to think how you could have made it better, how you could have been successful, but sometimes, a success outcome wasn't even on the table to begin with.

    People, and companies especially, have their own agendas and you may never know full story, or be allowed to see the bigger picture. I have a friend who nearly went crazy with frustration when she received rejection after rejection for public sector jobs. She later found out that at least two of the positions had already been filled internally within the companies, but, by law or policy, they had to advertise the position publicly and conduct a certain amount of interviews!

    I think that's quite a callous policy, but on the other hand, I forgive myself a lot easier after a rejection when I think of that example!

  • I'm happy to read this just as I'm getting ready to apply for graduate school. Hopefully I can chalk up any rejections to a bad programmatic fit. πŸ˜‰

  • srinirao


    Thanks for the shoutout here. Love your dad's advice as well :). I'm glad you share your story with us of the 27 different publishers because that's great encouragement for people to keep pushing what's possible. I think one of things that's so interesting is that we don't often end up where we started.

  • Great post on rejection. People often do not take the risk for fear of rejection, but there's always that saying about how the greatest successes come from those who've failed the hardest. πŸ™‚

  • I love when things are poppin' and falling into place, one by one, but I also love running up against some wall and completely crushing myself trying to run through it. After I brush myself off and shake off the cobwebbs, I'm fashioning some sort of grappling hook to scale that son of a B and get what I wanted after all. Even if plans change and I get something else, figuring a way through or around a barrier like rejection is always life's sweetest point. You just need to keep moving in order to appreciate it.

  • Oh my gosh, rejections. Aren't they the worst at the time but the moments where you are really able to see a plan for your life? Yours are good. I love when they lead to other things (like your start-up). My best (worst) rejection was in my application to Teach for America. I made it through all rounds of the interview process and worked in a classroom for a Teach for America teacher. I had visited Chicago, where I planned to be, and had picked the area of town I wanted to live. I found out at the last moment hat I got rejected, and now I live in Tampa and teach at a school that is sending me to Africa this summer to set up a partnership with a school in rural Ghana. African Studies was my minor and is my passion, and I'm so thankful that I have this opportunity to bring this to the students at my school. (Along with the fact that I have now been dating my boyfriend that I met here for two years.) Rejections work out in the end…

  • EveEllenbogen

    R-r-r-rad!!!! This is so awesome, and so freakin' true! Wise words from a wise lady.

  • Rachel Vincent

    Jenny, this might my most favorite of your posts. If what we are doing isn't hard and we're not failing sometimes, we aren't pushing ourselves enough.

    The most successful people aren't the ones that don't fail (forgive the double negative). Successful people just do more and risk more often, so they seem more successful. A friend once said to me that I could fail a good 40% of the time, but if I try harder, do more, and risk more, than I will be more successful in the long run (my 60% success would end up being a much larger amount than the non-risk 90% success people). A good lesson that I now try to live by. I give myself the flexibility to fail a whole bunch, but require myself to work harder and do more to allow room for those failures.

  • I absolutely agree, however hard it may be to say I support rejection, I believe that rejection in the personal and professional world simply means you've put yourself out on a limb that others are afraid to try. In the end, those who step outside their comfort zones (and are met with rejection) find more success than those who remain inside the realm of what is comfortable.

  • Ashalah

    Love this post, I try to keep the same mentality. If I don't get one thing, then surely something bigger and better is waiting right around the corner! It sucks at first, that's very true, but it only makes us stronger and more determined πŸ™‚ My favorite quote, which I've known I've thrown at other people in the blogosphere is: “Success is never final, failure is never fatal; it's courage that truly counts.”

  • Quarterlifelady

    This is great. Putting myself out there is such a difficult thing for me. I HATE looking stupid in front of other people. I hate rejection and feeling like I'm inadequate. But I know that when I stop myself from putting myself out there, I'm also limiting the amount of awesome opportunities that could be coming my way. It's a hard balance for me.

  • Jenny you hit the nail on the head again!

    In fact, some of the accomplishments I am most proud of are failures – they often propel the most intensive growth and open doors success never would have lead you to.

    Thank you, yet again.

  • I loved this post- I made a scrapbook of “REJECTIONS” letters, pictures, auditions, etc. to remind myself that all of that has made me stronger- AND helped me define more and more of what I ACTUALLY want….I think it's amazing to look at your rejections fondly- whether it's a person, a job, a dream, a friend…etc. πŸ™‚

  • Adriana Casas

    Great post, Jenny! I once heard the act of receiving rejection put this way, “that's just one more “no” you have to go through before you get to your “yes.””


  • Adriana Casas

    Another quote that comes to mind is, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”-Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation.

  • Info

    Here, here! Awesome post, Jenny!!! And MIT chimes in with research on how rejection resiliency breeds innovation for entrepreneurs.

    You’re on to something…but I always knew you were! πŸ˜‰

  • I think it's so good to remind yourself of rejection, however, I do not think that focusing on rejection is something one should do perpetually.

    As Miss Oprah says: “I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become.”

    BUT – I actually really like the idea here where you looked at these particular closed doors, and the opening that came after. Also, it shows that we/you/I are human. That we have failures and mistakes and they are integral pieces to our success. Beautiful idea for a post and thanks for sharing πŸ™‚ I know it's not always easy to recount our rejections.

  • On the back of a picture on my desk that I look at every day is the quote “To be ready to fail is to be prepared for success.” Between that and the Rascal Flatts “Bless the Broken Road” I've learned to not mind rejection as much. Because not only does the sun rise the next day regardless, btu many times we are able to find even bigger and better things. I'm not sure if it's that everything “works out the way it's supposed to” but I do believe that successful and fulfilled people are the ones who come back from rejection stronger for the experience, wiser for the wear and ready to do it all over again (except maybe hopefully with just a few different factors!)

    Like you said, it definitely is a chocolate-covered pretzel (a personal fave, by the by) of sting and eventual satisfaction. I liken it also to Sour Patch Kids (another person fave) in that the sour sting and pain are eventually overtaken by the sweet interior. πŸ™‚

  • Thanks Laura! It can be so easy sometimes to pout, booze or otherwise self-destruct – but once we accept rejection as a normal part of life, I think it helps us move forward much more quickly (even though we are still allowed to feel disappointed). Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thanks Dani! It's so true – rejection is just a part of life and it absolutely does not mean that we aren't still headed for greatness. Or at least that's my optimistic spin on things πŸ™‚

  • Tammy – I absolutely loved your comment. Yes! Rejections are just as important as our successes, because it really makes us feel like we earned the successes (or at least for me). The “I tried” badge is what we get to show off to our friends and family as a representation of guts, risk-taking, persistence and going for what we want.

    You are so right that many situations are not in our complete control – and even if we give 100% or the product (resume, interview, etc) is flawless, we can still get rejected. So best not to get hung up on the rejection. Instead, we can all celebrate together πŸ˜€

  • Kristen – perfect timing! I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you – I'm sure you'll have no trouble at all. The right school is waiting for you, and all the others? Just little “way to go for it” badges along the way πŸ™‚

  • Srini – Your post was AWESOME – I loved how vulnerable and open you were about sharing your failures. It really got me thinking long and hard about the failures I could share here at some point…thanks! Glad you liked my dad's advice – it's given him a very active social life πŸ˜€

    “We don't often end up where we started” – so true!! And sometimes what we think we want isn't actually what's best for us. Great reminder πŸ™‚

  • Thanks Suki! I love that saying – there is truly something honorable about failing hard and getting back up. That's what life is all about – and if we can find a way to learn from the rejections and not take them TOO personally, we'll be so much better off. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • James! Love the way you word things πŸ™‚ You cracked me up with the wall and grappling hook analogy. YES! Scale that son of a b*tch and go after it anyway. I take the first “no” as a sign that I just need to get smarter about proving how bad I want something. BRING IT!

    And this line is just pure poetry: “Figuring a way through or around a barrier like rejection is always life's sweetest point. You just need to keep moving in order to appreciate it.”

    LOVE IT.

  • Eve! Thanks for your note πŸ˜€ You know the biggest thing I learned with the book stuff? The sting of rejection never hurts half as bad as I think it will. Which is why we should keep doing awesome things like submitting our writing to be printed in Korean magazines!! Okay, so that's just one of us, but still πŸ™‚

  • Little Girl in the Big World – Thanks so much for your comment! They can really knock the wind out of you in the moment, but hindsight is really fun to see where they lead us instead. LOVED your Teach for America story! I mean, it must have been so difficult to get rejected after getting that far – and especially at the last minute – but you are now going to AFRICA for the summer. That is amazing!! What an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    Rejections really do work out in the end…just got a huge smile reading about yours – thanks for sharing!

  • Rachel – thank you so much for the kind words! I'm so glad you liked this post. I love the way you put it – if we aren't doing challenging things that lead us to fail at times, then we aren't pushing ourselves enough. So true! And what an amazing way to think about it – that successful people just do more and risk more often so they seem more successful. I had never thought about it like that before! Brilliant. Such a great reminder to keep trying new things – eventually the right projects, jobs and people will stick. Thanks so much for such an insightful comment!

  • Caitlin – I know what you mean. It's hard to say “sure, rejection, bring it on!” – I don't know if any of us would actively choose it, but hopefully the prospect of rejection isn't enough to keep us from stretching outside of our comfort zones, just like you said.

  • Thanks Adriana! I love that quote πŸ™‚

  • Ashalah – I love your perspective! Yes, SURELY something bigger and better is waiting right around the corner. 99% of the time it's true, but even if it wasn't – it's such a more pleasant way to go through life! I love the quote you shared too – that's a great one. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thanks girl! I know what you mean – I hate looking stupid in front of other people too – or feeling like somehow *I* wasn't good enough for *them.* Eff you! But in all seriousness, it truly is about the balance of doing what we feel comfortable with, without shying away from big opportunities just for fear of rejection.

  • Rebecca – thanks so much! I'm with you – my failures give me the best stories, growth and blessings-in-disguise. You've taken some huge leaps – I have so much respect for that! Those are the risks that truly build our character – and you're a shining example of that πŸ™‚

  • Chels – a scrapbook of rejections – BRILLIANT! From the moment I met you, I knew you had a thicker skin than 99% of the people out there. You've built it up over time – rejection by rejection – and you keep on moving forward. After we met in Vegas and I was reading through your blog, I kept reflecting on the courage it takes to keep pursuing those giant dreams (to be dumb famous, which you WILL be!) – and not let the rejections stand in your way. Mine have really helped me define what *I* actually want too – not just what will be someone else's accepted version of success.

    <3 you!

  • Hey Grace! I totally agree – no need to dwell on rejection or seek it out, but it can help to have a few big rejection”badges” in our back pocket to give us encouragement that life does go on. I really like what you said about failures and mistakes being integral to our success. That's what makes the hero's saga/journey of our lives a story worth telling!


    I absolutely love the quote you shared. You are so right – as you and I have both learned (together, through many a SP call) – the sun does rise the next day (even if we still don't want to get out of bed). And it really does lead to bigger and better things – we just have to keep the faith that those things are out there. And they are. I agree with you that the successful and fufilled people are the ones who come back from rejection and try again.

    Plus, what else would we talk about on Saturday mornings?!

    Final thought: Mmmmmmm. Sour patch kidsssssss. :::::mouth watering:::::

  • EveEllenbogen

    I love that. One day while hiking in Ireland, I jumped from one scary rock to another, and realized that my fear was unfounded. Somehow, the phrase, “The fear of the thing is always worse than the thing itself,” popped into my head, and I've been reminding myself of that ever since. Clearly, great minds think alike πŸ˜‰

  • Jenny – I can fully relate (and love the chocolate covered pretzels reference)! Before I found my internship-turned-job I thought striving to work in PR would only be met with rejection. It took a lot of searching, but eventually I was in the right place at the right time and my hard work of rising past the rejections led me to my current position, the best place for me right now.

    I feel like I'm doing my best to try things that scare me. For example, I'm working to take my online connections offline. Almost everyone has responded positively to offers for phone/Skype chats (like you : ) and meeting up, but there's been a few that haven't led anywhere. It could be a result of being too busy of course, but you never know where a connection will lead after putting yourself out there. Either way, rejection is a reminder that there's always something positive around the corner… you just gotta keep after it.

  • And whoops, look like my agency alter ego was signed into Twitter. Look forward to chatting with you soon, Jenny!


  • Hey Stephanie – for starters, it was SO great talking to you on the phone earlier! You have so much energy and I loved hearing about what you're up to. Plus – I'm all for “having calls” with other awesome young people making things happen πŸ™‚

    And thanks so much for your comment! It's awesome that you found such a great position, even after a handful of rejections.

    I'm with you – you never know where a connection might lead, and rejections just take us one step closer to our goals. Or they shift the goal and bring us something entirely new and wonderful instead πŸ™‚

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  • HannahCB

    Thanks for a fab post πŸ™‚ The idea of celebrating our rejections is a great one. I guess it's a choice we have to make every day, whether to get stuck on the fact we got rejected or try and look at it with an open and curious mind.

    Just discovered your site and love it, thanks Jenny!

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  • Hey Jenny!

    I really loved this post, so much so that I shared it with my readers over here:

    We can all use some solid advice about handling rejection once in awhile. Your advice is inspirational & graceful! Love it.


  • Awesome – thanks so much Dena! I absolutely love your website – and am honored to be included in your latest round-up πŸ™‚ Looking forward to keeping in touch!

  • Thanks Hannah! You're so right – this is a choice that we have to keep making every day. It doesn't matter whether the rejection is big or small, the important thing is to keep moving forward. And I love what you said about doing that with an open and curious mind…brilliant! So glad you found Life After College – looking forward to keeping in touch πŸ˜€

  • Thanks so much Jenny! Loved the MIT article – you always have the best links πŸ˜€ xoxo!

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