Ask any objectively successful person what they believe is the trait that most positively impacted their success, and I’d wager that 90% of them would respond with the word resilience.
Resilience, especially in the context of achieving success, refers to the ability to bounce back from rejection, disappointment, or setbacks without losing motivation or confidence. It involves maintaining a positive attitude, adapting to the situation, and persevering towards one’s goals despite encountering obstacles or rejection.
In its simplest form, resilience means being able to hear the word no without losing hope.
I’d say I’ve had a pretty successful life. On paper, I look like someone who has accomplished a great many things. I have a successful marriage, two beautiful children. I have a doctorate degree, publications in top-tier empirical journals. I have a book deal with a publisher and a projected publication date of later this year, and I was just signed on as a contributor at Psychology Today. In addition, I run a successful business, have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and in my spare time have become pretty skilled at a ton of different hobbies.
But as I said, that’s on paper.
In the unwritten annals of my life, things don’t look as impressive. The word no has been tossed my way far more times than yes. In fact, if I were to compare my list of rejections and failures to my list of successes, the second one would come up quite short.
Let’s see if I can call to mind a few examples from my expansive list of No:
I applied to eight graduate programs and was rejected by all but one.
I am on my second marriage. The first one ended in divorce.
I sent queries to 15 literary agents when I was shopping my book proposal around. I only heard back from four of them. Two were rejections, one was a maybe, and only one was an offer for representation.
My agent shopped around my book to, I believe, 20 different publishers. The first seven replies were passes. Many never responded. The first offer I received was a great one, and I took it, so it’s impossible to know how many more rejections (or offers, to be fair) I would have gotten if we kept going.
My first business collapsed following COVID-19. Thankfully, my second one was spared, but only by the skin of its teeth.
My first proposal for a recurring blog on Psychology Today was rejected within three days of sending it.
I could keep going, but I think the point has been made.
The singular uniting trait of highly successful people is resilience in the face of no. Through the process of desensitization (or, repeated exposure over time), successful people become less afraid of the word no the more they are exposed to it.
Successful people have learned that no is the vehicle to yes. The path to acceptance is paved in rejections. In every no and every rejection, there are learnings. Wisdom and experience are acquired. Although some rejections do not come with feedback or advice, many of them do. And with that feedback comes the opportunity to calibrate, to reset, to improve. Some of my biggest wins have come on the heels of an epic no that rocked my confidence, but that gave me key insights for improving.
It is the fear or the word no that blocks the way to that yes you seek.
Nobody likes feeling rejected. I won’t even attempt to tell you that, with repeated exposure, the pain of hearing no eventually goes away. Every no stings, no matter how successful you become. After all, we are all wounded humans moving through a world that loves to peel off scabs and poke at the tender flesh underneath. We all have egos that need tended to. We all wonder if, underneath it all, we actually aren’t that good at anything.
But with time and experience, the nos do eventually become less devastating. Instead of feeling like a door slammed in your face, they begin to feel like a door left slightly ajar. If you just keep trying, maybe you can slip your toe into the crack. And then, it’s just a matter of time until that door starts to creak open.
I encourage everyone to try to conquer their fear of rejection and the ever frightening no. Unless you are one of the less than 1% of people who are just naturally gifted at everything they touch, you’re going to hear the word no. Probably a lot. It doesn’t say anything about your worth, your prospects, or your ability. It merely means not yet. It’s not your turn. Keep trying.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.
Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.