Seeking rejection can teach us so much about creative living, working and playing. Graphic designer Liz Mosley shares her thoughts about the discomfort we associate with rejection, and her antidote to dealing with it, for This Creative Life.
Is rejection holding you back?
The sting of rejection is a pretty universal experience, I would imagine. Whether it’s a romantic turndown, a job you didn’t get, a friendship that fell apart – we all know that pain to a certain degree. It’s not a nice feeling and our default is to try and do whatever we can to avoid it happening again.
About six months ago, I had a realisation that my fear of rejection was holding me back from pushing myself in my career and going for opportunities and experiences that I wanted to have. What really sparked me to tackle my fear of rejection was a small encounter I had at a conference last year. I very briefly met a well-known and prominent business thought leader. Later on I tagged him in an instagram story, and he replied, so I thought I would make the most of the opportunity and invite him to be on my podcast. It was a bit of a rash, unplanned thing, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but he said that my podcast didn’t have a big enough audience but to get back to him when it did. So, basically, no.
Now that is fair enough – everyone needs to have boundaries, and I’m sure he gets asked to be on podcasts all the time, but in that moment, the rejection stung. I felt embarrassed, like I had made a fool of myself. I wished I hadn’t asked and just felt a bit rubbish. Ultimately, it wasn’t a big deal, I moved on quickly, but it caused me to analyse my experience of rejection. I suddenly realised that there were so many things I wasn’t asking for or pitching for because I was afraid of this exact experience; the no, the rejection.
I started to think maybe there was something I could do to try and get over my fear of being rejected.
Challenging the fear of rejection
Now if you know me, then you will know I love being analytical and a bit scientific when it comes to my business. I also love challenges. And so I started to think maybe there was something I could do to try and get over my fear of being rejected. I was reminded of an internet pal of mine, Katie Chappell, who had spent some time actually seeking out no’s to see what happened and so decided to follow suit.
In February, I decided that I was going to try and get 100 rejections in six months and see what happened. I felt fairly certain I would learn a lot through the process, but I also had a sneaky suspicion that I might end up getting a fair few ‘yeses’ that I wouldn’t have gotten without asking.
It felt like a win-win scenario. If I got a yes from someone, then obviously that would feel great, and if I got a no, it would actually feel less of a big deal because I knew that it could be added to the list of rejections and get me closer to my goal.
I also decided that I’d document the challenge on TikTok and with my mailing list, so it would also help me create engaging and inspiring content for others. I actually hadn’t anticipated how inspiring it might be. I’ve had so many messages from people celebrating ‘yeses’ because they’d seen me talking about my challenge and decided to go and pitch for something they’d been holding off from.
What have I learnt from rejection so far?
- I can choose not to believe what I perceive the rejection says about me. We all have certain lies that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Sometime they’re based on a slither of truth that we blow out of proportion, but they’re rarely rooted in truth at all. I think a big struggle with rejection is what we tell ourselves that rejection means. We’re not good enough, not good at our jobs, someone doesn’t like us. We take the rejection as a personal failure and then feed and perpetuate the negative thoughts we have about ourselves. In reality there are lots of other reasons why we might’ve been rejected.
- Maybe it wasn’t the right time for that particular collaboration, or they were already working with someone similar. Maybe they don’t have capacity to work with you or be a guest on your podcast at that point. Something I’ve realised is that I can choose how I respond to the no in front of me. I can make the choice to not let it exacerbate any negative thoughts I have about myself but instead be grateful that the opportunity I was hoping for wasn’t the right fit for me after all. I can let it go knowing there will be other opportunities.
- The power of just changing your mindset about something has a huge impact. Once I had decided to take on this challenge, there was an immediate shift in how I thought about rejection. It was so refreshing and liberating. I felt empowered about going out to pitch and seek opportunities because I was less afraid of the rejection. If it happened I knew it would help me reach my goal, so it was a kind of win-win situation.
- There are opportunities everywhere – they won’t all be for you, and that’s ok. Something I am very sure of is that I won’t be the right fit for everyone, and that is absolutely to be expected. It means I can seek out the opportunities that ARE the right fit for me. One of my favourite aspects of being self-employed is that you never know what’s around the corner. You might get approached by a dream client out of the blue, or get invited to an incredible event. There’s plenty we can do to put ourselves out there and attract more of these opportunities.
- I might not have capacity for all the yeses. I hoped I would get some yeses, but hadn’t anticipated how many I’d get. I swiftly realised that if I was pitching for work, I needed to make sure I had the capacity to do it. What an incredible position to be in, but also a limit to how many rejections I can actually seek. Managing my workload isn’t always easy, so I want to protect my time and energy.
At the halfway point in the project, my rejection challenge is not going well. But in the best of ways.
The next steps in my rejection journey
An aspect of this challenge I’ve noticed is that a certain level of privilege and safety is required to do something like this. I’m in a position where I feel safe to collect rejections, and it doesn’t feel like a big risk to my business. If my circumstances were different, that might not be the case, and I acknowledge that while I can do this challenge and have fun with it, it might not be possible for everyone.
At the halfway point in the project, my rejection challenge is not going well. But in the best of ways. I currently have more yeses than no’s. I have managed to get a spot on one of my favourite podcasts, secure my dream sponsor for eight episodes of my podcast, one of my favourite designers/illustrators agreed to be a guest on my podcast and more. I’ve had a few painful rejections, one in particular involved a pretty rude email from another very famous thought leader. I did, for a moment, question whether I should pack in the whole challenge, but the thing that really encouraged me was how quickly I recovered and moved on from that experience. This whole process, while not always comfortable, has already been hugely beneficial for me and my business. It is pushing me to dream bigger and ask for more, and I can’t wait to see what the next three months hold.
Liz Mosley is a graphic designer with over 15 years of experience and now specialises in creative branding, animated GIFS and websites for small business owners. She hosts the Building Your Brand podcast, which, with the help of her guests and solo episodes, aids small business owners in feeling more confident about all aspects of branding and marketing.
Liz also teaches courses and workshops showing people how to create branding and GIFS if they don’t have the budget to outsource it. Her goal for her clients and students is for them to come away with branding that they love and that helps them feel so proud when sharing what they do with the world.
If you would like to get updates about the challenge, you can sign up to Liz’s mailing list or follow her on TikTok. I’d also encourage you to subscribe to her podcast Building your Brand because once the challenge is complete, she will be recording an episode with Katie Chappell on their experiences of seeking out rejection.