The power of no

Madonna embarked on her solo career after her band was rejected by its record label.

Madonna embarked on her solo career after her band was rejected by its record label.

Published Nov 12, 2010


Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue, made a startling admission to a group of young, aspiring fashion writers in New York last month. The most powerful woman in the magazine world revealed she was once sacked by Harper’s Bazaar.

What’s more, she said it was one of the best things that had ever happened to her. “I recommend you all get fired, it’s a great learning experience,” she said.

It was a surprising confession and a heartening piece of career advice at a time when many people are losing their jobs.

The quote was picked up on around the world, with people adding examples of famous people who had done well despite, or often because of, early rejection.

JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter after being sacked as a secretary for “daydreaming’. She then got rejected by 12 publishers before the chairman of Bloomsbury brought home the Potter manuscript for his daughter Alice to read.

Madonna started her musical career after being sacked from Dunkin’ Donuts for squirting sauce at customers. Her first band, The Breakfast Club, was dropped by their record label, so she decided to go solo. The rest, as they say, is history.

Almost every record label in the country turned down The Beatles; Walt Disney was fired because he lacked imagination – the list goes on.

It seems rejection can be the best thing that can happen to you in life – a phenomenon being dubbed the Power of No.

“Rejection can concentrate the mind,” says psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. “It shows you the world can’t be taken for granted and you have to fight for what you want.

“It can make you more determined to prove your abilities, it sharpens your competitiveness and gives you an incentive to prove people wrong.”

Rejection is also a sign you are living life to the full, according to a new game taking America by storm.

Rejection Therapy was created by Jason Comely to overcome the social anxiety that kept him from having the relationships and success he craved. He challenged himself to spend a year trying to be rejected by someone every single day. As part of the game he smiled at strangers, asked women on dates and arranged work meetings – things he would have been too scared to do before.

After a year, he concluded it was harder to be rejected than he expected and that if he hadn’t played the game he would have missed out on countless opportunities to meet new people and expand his life.

His therapy card game has become the latest self-help hit in the US, encouraging people to open themselves up to possible rejection. The cards suggest things such as requesting a discount when you buy something, asking for a pay rise or approaching someone to ask if you can join their table in a restaurant.

Your day is not successful unless someone has rejected you, either by not smiling back or by saying “No”.

In her new book Switched On, Sahar Hashemi, the woman who started the Coffee Republic chain, agrees with Comely’s philosophy. She argues being rejected is just part of life and we have to stop fearing it in order to live up to our potential.

“I’ve written about notching up the ‘Nos’, which is the idea that in life you need to expect rejection.

“When we tried to start up Coffee Republic, we were turned down by 19 bank managers. I was told we were a nation of tea drinkers and no one was going to want to spend more than 60p for a cup of coffee or use silly names such as skinny lattes.

“It was demoralising… but I became more determined. I was brought up to believe persistence was the key to success and that nothing worth having comes easily.

“I also received nine rejections from book publishers before I got a deal. The trick is to see rejection as not a big thing, to get used to it, to expect it. It simply represents one person’s opinion.”

Rejection can hurt more than the event itself ever justifies, because it brings back all past rejections and makes us feel useless, says Hodson.

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Christine Webber, author of Too Young To Get Old, says: “Being rejected on a personal level is one of the worst pains people can go through.

As hard as it is to believe at the time, you do get over it – and often are stronger for it. A lot of people triumph after a break-up and go on to be much happier.” she says.

What’s more, being rejected is often not as bad as you think and it takes away the fear of rejection. And no matter how much it hurts, rejection is better than the alternative, which is to try to live without putting yourself out there.

“Fear of rejection is often a person’s number one anxiety, so much so that some people try to guarantee it won’t ever happen to them,” adds Webber.

“To grow from rejection, first you need to get things into perspective. It’s easy to feel this is the worst thing in the world, but it certainly isn’t,” says Hodson.

“Remember that a disaster is being trapped in a mine, not being sacked or dumped by a boyfriend.”

Webber suggests listing things you won’t miss in the relationship, then ask: “What opportunities do I have now?” You will start to see things aren’t all bad, she says.

Second, boost your confidence. Remember your accomplishments and remind yourself that while you might not have got a particular job, you have a lot of good experience.

If you’ve been socially rejected, accept you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and many people love you.

Finally, and often this is the most difficult, ask yourself why you were rejected.

“Rejection can be a sign that there are lessons to be learnt,’ says Phillip. “You have to ask why you are being rejected and look honestly at how you can make yourself more attractive to other people.

“If you’re talking to people at parties about the pain in your leg, you’re going to get rejected.’

Likewise, if you keep getting turned down for jobs, ask yourself if there’s something better you could be doing in your interviews – then ask the bigger question of whether you are going for the right kind of job. If the answer is still yes, then keep persevering. If not, try something new.”

Before starting her business, Sahar Hashemi was a lawyer who was constantly turned down for jobs. “I couldn’t understand why. Now I realise it was because I was wholly unsuited to the job,” she laughs.

And if she had got one of those law jobs, she could well be in a nine-to-five career instead of having built a company with a turnover of £30 million a year.

“The worst thing you can do is to be too scared to put your head above the parapet and go for what you want,” she says. - Daily Mail

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