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Made Vibrant

How To Deal With The Pain of Rejection

Three ways that I've learned to lessen the blow of rejection so it doesn't take me out of the game.
Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

How To Deal With The Pain of Rejection

Whether you’re starting your own business or you’re simply striving for a more happy, vibrant life in general, it’s likely that rejection is going to hit you at some point along your journey.

So today I want to share with you some personal instances of my own rejection. I want to talk about how I experience that kind of disappointment, and then the system I’ve developed for dealing with it.

The key to dealing with rejection is not letting it paralyze you or deter you from continuing to pursue your dreams.

About a year into starting my first creative business, Made Vibrant, an email inquiry landed in my inbox from a HUGE company that I love. To my complete surprise, they had found my work on Instagram and asked me if I’d be interested in doing custom artwork to promote an upcoming event. (And by “upcoming event” I mean an annual conference of over 5,000 attendees. No big deal, right?)

This was a billion dollar company (that’s BILLION, with a B) known for its quality and appreciation for good design, and they were asking to collaborate with me. Say whhhhhhatttt?!

Needless to say, I was over the moon.

But, there at the end of the email were the words I was dreading: “Could you submit a proposal by Thursday?”

“Proposal” is company speak for “we’re considering multiple artists and want to see who’s work is the best fit for the best price.”

And so began my standard descent into self-doubt and fear. I thought, rethought, and overthought this proposal. I calculated the cost of the project based on every method I’ve read about and heard of from fellow colleagues: based on time I thought it would take me to complete the project, based on what I thought my art was worth, based on who the company was, based on where the art would be seen.

I finally came to a number that I felt comfortable with – one that I felt was just out of my comfort zone enough (I’m notoriously bad at under-charging just to avoid the pain of risking rejection) but still reflected a reasonable rate for the project, given the tight turnaround time and usage rights they requested. So, I typed up my proposal, read it over conscientious 32-or-so times, crossed my fingers, and I hit send.

Two days later I received an email saying they went with another artist.

I won’t lie to you, I was SUPER bummed. It would have been an awesome gig. But it sucked a little worse somehow because I felt like I was finally putting on my big girl pants and charging what I feel I’m worth (something that’s not easy for me to do), only to have it seemingly backfire on me.

I’m a sensitive person and so I often feel the weight of things in every fiber of my being. I could sense my brain starting to spiral into all those different places: Should I have charged less? Did they think my work wasn’t good enough? Were they expecting something different from my proposal?

Then I realized what I was doing and had to stop myself.

I had to remind myself that I believed in my price. I believe in my work. And I believe that there will be more opportunities like that in the future. (Not to mention my goal right now is to wind down client work not crank it back up, so it was probably a blessing in disguise.) But, in that moment, it felt nearly impossible to simply brush off the disappointment.

So, what do you do when you feel the weight of rejection? How do you make the sting go away?

Well, I imagine it works slightly differently for everyone, but I have a 3-step system that brings me back to reality after I’ve experienced some form of rejection, and I’m hoping it might help some of you out there.

1. Give yourself 10 minutes to feel ALL the feelings.

I’m not one of those people who can bounce from one emotion to another. I need transition time. “Snap out of it” is just not a realistic thing for me. The only way “out” of my emotions is THROUGH.

So… I don’t fight it. I let myself feel the sadness, the disappointment, the sting. BUT I only allow myself to do it for ten minutes. For those ten gluttonous minutes, I give myself permission to feel whatever I’m feeling before I have to dust myself off and get back on the horse. But, the very second that those ten minutes are up, I know it’s time to move along. I mentally shut the door on the situation, and I place a stickler of a hall monitor right outside that door with explicit instructions not to let myself drift back into the maddening self-doubt waiting inside.

2. List off three reasons why you ARE enough.

When we experience rejection, a lot of times it can be our first instinct to try and understand WHY. The only problem with that strategy is that oftentimes our self-confidence becomes the victim of that interrogation.

I wasn’t experienced enough.

My work wasn’t polished enough.

I wasn’t confident enough.

My proposal wasn’t thorough enough. 

Screw that. I am enough. And you are enough too. Something about that particular opportunity wasn’t a good fit, but it shouldn’t discredit all great beliefs you have about yourself and what you can do.

Don’t let one NO have you rethinking all the other YES’s that have come before and that will come after it.

“Don’t let one NO have you rethinking all the other YES’s that have come before and that will come after it.”

To counteract all that and to prevent that destructive self-talk, I force myself to list three reasons why I’m enough. Three reasons why I would have been a great fit for that project. Or why my work matters. (Truth be told, I don’t think we do this enough on a daily basis, be it post-rejection or not.)

3. Go do something else.

Even if you don’t want to dwell on the negative, it’s hard to prevent it, isn’t it?

If I were to try and hop back into my email after that kind of disappointment, no matter how hard I tried I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to shake it. So, to help myself, I move on to something completely different. I do something active, have a dance party, make a piece of art – whatever I can to occupy my mind with something that feels like progress or that lifts my mood to a more positive place.

Before I know it, I’m back in the game and my rejection hasn’t left me questioning everything.

Listen, I know it’s hard putting yourself out there. That custom art project was just one of many rejections I’ve experienced throughout the short life of Made Vibrant.

But we can’t let rejection feed our fear. Fear is the enemy. Of creation, of truth, of GROWTH.

Let’s reframe how we think about rejection. Rejection can actually mean that you’re holding your ground, that you’re dreaming bigger and you’re testing your limits.

If you’re not experiencing some form of rejection, you’re not challenging the limits of what you think you can accomplish.

“If you’re not experiencing some form of rejection, you’re not challenging the limits of what you think you can accomplish.”

(My friend Tiffany Han knows this better than anyone because she came up with this brilliant program, 100 Rejection Letters – definitely check it out!)

So this week, I want you to get rejected. JUST KIDDING!

If you haven’t experienced rejection lately, good! But I still want you to list off three reasons why you’re enough. Keep them to yourself, hang them up at your desk, or email me back and share them with me.

I want this week to be an encouragement to you to keep moving forward, despite whatever setbacks have come (or will come your way.)

You are the owner of your life. Never forget that!

How To Deal With The Pain of Rejection

(Big Fat Takeaway)

If you're a creative person pushing your boundaries, you WILL experience rejection. To lessen the pain of hearing no, allow yourself to feel the sting, but don't allow yourself to wallow in it. List the reasons you ARE enough, step away for a bit, and then get back to work.


This article written by

Caroline Zook

She/Her | Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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