Rejection: Overcoming the Fear of Isolation

'Authors by the hundreds can tell you stories by the thousands of those rejection slips before they found a publisher who was willing to 'gamble' on an unknown.' ~ Zig ZiglarClick To Tweet

Some of you know that I’ve written a book. A serious, 80,000 word, change-the-world book. It took some time, and a lot of effort. A lot of early mornings, and shouting into the void…


And initially I had assumed I would self-publish. It’s a credible, professional approach these days – you do more of the work but keep more of the profit. However I decided at the eleventh hour to query a handful of literary agents as well… Two rejections later (with another four in the pipeline) I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about rejection – and how it relates to progress and achievement.

I do wish this was a story with a happy ending – where I could say at the end… “but after the fifth rejection, I landed the most amazing agent in the world…”. Not yet. Let’s just call this a work in progress.

So here are my observations about rejection – why it makes us feel pretty crappy, and what to do about it.

The evolutionary psychology of rejection

'We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don't. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.' ~ Henry RollinsClick To Tweet

Our early ancestors – the ones that came from Africa or Asia and represented the first departure from chimpanzees (or their prehistoric equivalent) – relied on each other a lot for survival. Especially the women. Early hominids needed each other – so that one group could be out hunting and gathering food, while another ensured that offspring were fed and kept safe from predators. And while it’s easy to think of this as some irrelevant stone-age trivia, the truth is, we’ve come to rely on each other more and more. Not the other way around.


Think about it for a minute. We don’t build our own houses, most of us don’t grow (or even cook) our own food. We don’t craft our own tools. We don’t fix our own cars or computers. We don’t all start our own one-person businesses – most of us work for someone else. It is increasingly rare for mothers to give birth without several other people helping, or at least on stand-by.

We have evolved to see rejection as a threat to our survival. Being ostracised from the group – from our clan or from society – meant fending for yourself… and that way lies certain death.

So from your brain’s perspective, rejection is a pretty serious thing.

Coping with rejection

'I believe that rejection is a blessing because it's the universe's way of telling you that there's something better out there.' ~ Michelle PhanClick To Tweet

Well that makes it sound super easy… right? Just trust that the universe has something else in store for you that will eclipse this.


Easy to say, harder to believe.

So here are some ways to help you cope.

Plan multiple pathways from the outset

I know that having a “Plan B” gets a bit of a bad rap, but hear me out.

Anything that matters in life has more than one path to get to it. Using my example above, I had initially planned to self-publish. I still believe that doing so is a completely legitimate and viable option. So when an agent says “no thanks” it simply brings me one step closer to self-publishing – somehow, this takes the sting out.

So when you are planning a big audacious goal that you really care about, deliberately plan more than one way to get there.

Mentally rehearse the worst possible outcome

This can sound a bit morbid or pessimistic, but in reality, it’s incredibly powerful.

When you really dig deep into the feared outcome, before it happens, you’ve usually already worked out that, even though it will suck, you’ll survive. You’ll figure it out. You’ll find a way through to the other side.

Tim Ferriss has done an excellent TED talk on this.


Develop a meditation and mindfulness practice

Meditating regularly allows you to be more present in the current moment. It also allows you to learn how to observe your thoughts and feelings instead of being them.

This means that you can observe your disappointment, your fear, your sadness, and call it what it is. And then decide whether you want to keep feeling that – or whether you’d rather feel something more productive. Like curiosity. Or determination.

What techniques have you developed for handling rejection?


Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins

Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!

In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.

This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.


The First Time Manager’s Crash Course – Part Two

The First Time Manager’s Crash Course Part One and Part Two are out now on Skillshare.

These are the first two in a series of three programmes aimed at first time managers, helping them bridge the gap between the technical skills and processes that their employer (hopefully) is providing, and the leadership skills and insights they need to develop to be effective managers.

This course is for anyone who aspires to manage other people – whether in a formal management or team leadership role, or as a project manager without ongoing human resource management responsibility.

More importantly, it’s for those who have just been – or are about to be – appointed to one of these roles and are a bit anxious about what is involved.

Follow this link to get your first two months subscription for free…

Or share on Twitter or Facebook so that people in your network can benefit!

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