What Rejection Can Teach You

Posted · 25 Comments

Rejection can teach you.

“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” ~ Vince Lombardi

I love Lombardi’s quote because everybody ~ and I do mean everybody ~ gets knocked down at some point in their lives, flattened to the point that they don’t want to get back up. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. When it happens to you, the most important things to do are these: 1. get back up & 2. learn from it. Early on, rejection used to do that to me, knock me flat. Here are some real-life examples:


Over the past 10+ years, I’ve been rejected over 100 times. I stopped counting at 100 so I don’t know exactly how many. Some of them were fabulous (“This is beautifully written but not for me”) and some were less stellar (“I wasn’t satisfied at all with the ending”) & some were downright mean (“With all the awards you’ve won, I expected it to be so much better.” ~ although, in my defense, she only read the first 5 pages before rejecting me). What I could’ve learned is that I’m not a good-enough writer and my work isn’t publishable. What I learned, though, was in some cases, I simply sent my book to the wrong person because he/she didn’t represent my genre. In other cases (like the ending), my manuscript really did need work. And finally, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, that doesn’t automatically make them right or mean that their comments have helpful value.


I once caught the CFO of a company I worked for in a lie. A big lie. One that I thought might affect the company in a very negative way. So I reported it to his boss. Two days later, I got fired. Technically, I got fired for “job performance” but quite frankly, my performance had never been an issue until I pointed out that the head of finance was lying. Can you say shoot the messenger? Well, I could’ve learned to keep my mouth shut & my head down. But instead I chose to learn that I don’t ever want to work for a company or a person that supports/encourages dishonesty. Because, really, if they’re lying to each other, you know they’re also willing to lie to you.


I once got dumped because I gained some weight. Yeah, it was a lot. But still, his parting words to me: “I’m just not attracted to you when you’re fat.” Ouch. What I took away from that, after I picked myself up off the floor, was that I don’t want somebody ~ anybody ~ in my life who can’t see past what’s on the outside (how that came out of my mouth at the time was: “I don’t want anymore !*^&#$@ shallow *!$@)^ jerks”). And it’s not just weight either. It’s also scars, skin color, birthmarks, birth defects, handicaps, whatever. I could’ve learned imperfect/different people are unloveable. What I learned from that experience, though, is how to spot the jerks and kick them to the curb after insensitive comment number one. That way, I didn’t have to waste anymore of my time. I also learned how to spot the good ones, and then I married one of them.

And the point is . . .

Once I started turning rejection around & seeing what I could gain from it, it wasn’t nearly as bad. Was it great? No. Was everybody’s rejection helpful? That’s a no, too. Did I look forward to it? Not a chance. But at least it wasn’t the devastating, knock-me-over-with-a-feather experience it once had been. I know I’m venturing into Oprah territory here, but really if you look at rejection as a lesson ~ what’s in it for me ~ instead of a personal failure, it eases the sting a whole lot.

So what have you learned from rejection? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.

25 Responses to "What Rejection Can Teach You"
  1. Katherine Owen says:

    This is an amazing blog post. You are so grounded!



  2. zencherry says:

    (Pats you on back) Fabulous post. Lombardi is a hero of mine. Fighting spirit and all that.

    You’re absolutely right about rejection. It’s a learning experience that stings, true, but can be used to make us better and stronger. (Six-million Dollar Man theme music here)

    Proud of you for finding your zen about it. Good example for people like me that keep falling down and getting muddy in the dirt. Ah well, it all cleans up in the wash -eh? 😉

    • Hi Maureen! Thanks! I keep falling down & getting muddy, too. Difference is nowadays, I don’t stay down nearly as long. 🙂 Love the Six-Million-Dollar-Man music, BTW.

  3. Victor TLVD says:

    I am a would-be author, so the matter of rejection is really important to me.
    Sure, I`ve been rejected more than sometimes. To be sure, when I was a boy I judged myself the face of rejection itself: I had few friends, no girl friends (in the sexual kind), basically I was a “Loser”…
    Yet I`ve grown out of it, and became a full developed professional.
    What has been really bad, though, was being rejected – by most friends, by society, by my workmates, even by my spouse – when I had manifested and diagnosed a mental condition of Pseudologia Fantastica.
    It`s not that people reject me openly, but in all their actions I can feel rejection and untrust.
    I think this is particularly hard when it comes to any kind of rejection.
    But my answer is: I am and will always go on learning, studying, and making my mind in motion. I will enhance my Knowledge and grow up in Wisdom. I will translate that into everyday practice.
    Eventually, this might show that, in my condition and with due treatment and observation, I can be at least as productive as a “normal” man. And after all, is there a “normal” man?

    • Hi Victor! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve got a medical condition but am glad to hear that you’re staying positive about your life. I love this: “But my answer is: I am and will always go on learning, studying, and making my mind in motion.” And I agree, too, that one person’s definition of normal may be completely different from someone else’s. 🙂

  4. Sadie Heilemann says:

    Good pep talk, Shelli and interesting situation for Victor in comments. Pseudologia fantastica, aka pathological lying, I would think is a super-plus in the realm of fiction writing. However, I can see how it would stunt interpersonal relationships. People are very attached to the surface of facts and resent being made to believe that which is not so. In its own way, it is a separate and deeper truth that requires extra on-the-spot analysis of the teller. It can be tiring in the extreme. Food for thought, though.

    • Hi Sadie! Yes, I agree that any fiction writer needs to be a good liar since that’s basically what we do all day. 🙂 Although continuing to do it ~ make stuff up ~ when not writing would make trust a challenge.

  5. Don McAllister says:

    Great post, especially liked the section on writing. Like your writing..I’ll definitely be back. 🙂

  6. So true. I’ve learned a lot from rejection too. Most of all, I’ve learned to believe in who I know I am. It’s hard work because knock backs can make you doubt yourself. The bottom line is to be true to who you are and believe in that. You’ve obviously done that.

    • Hi Anne! I love this: “Most of all, I’ve learned to believe in who I know I am.” It’s so true that once you know who you are, it’s much harder for others to knock you back. 🙂

  7. Vivi Barnes says:

    Great post! Yes, I have learned that rejection can be a real gift. I look at my manuscript in the early days when I was sending it out and it was not ready at all. Thanks to the rejections, I’ve taken a closer look and found ways to make it so much stronger.

    • Hi Vivi! Thanks for the compliment. It is often a gift, although it’s usually hard to see it that way when it first happens. I’m grateful for a lot of the rejections I received, especially the ones that pointed out where my writing needed work. Like you said, all those comments just served to make the story that much stronger. 🙂

  8. Warren Henderson says:

    As someone about to take that leap into the world of rejection by sending my first novel out to agents and publishers, I found this to be a very thoughtful and hopefully helpful piece. I understand that being turned down for something that has taken years sometimes to write is ultimately the hardest part of being a writer. As in life, rejection is a major hurdle to overcome. I just hope that I am up to the challenge.

    • Hi Warren! I’m so glad this post helped you. I wish you all the best with your manuscript; I know you’re up to the challenge because you’re sending it out. 🙂 Cheers!

  9. Rachel says:

    WOW. I’m a new follower of your blog but I loved this post (though it made me sad when the ex told you he couldn’t date you bc you had gotten fat. ugh!). I sent out 23 queries this year and got 22 rejections. Technically 23 but the last one was an Revise and Resubmit. I’d made a deal w/the universe that the 23rd rejection would be it – clearly something was wrong with this novel that I was getting all form rejections w/no feedback. To my surprise #23 was a R+R (w/an agent phone call). I felt like it was the Universe’s way of saying “don’t give up”.

    I also heard a great line today “We only have regret so we can learn from it and better ourselves” and that’s how I feel with rejection. 🙂

    • Hi Rachel! *waves* Thanks so much for the fab compliment & I think we can agree the ex was a jerk 😉 I’m sorry you got rejected but happy to hear that an agent called you and offered to reread your novel. That’s a great sign. Thanks so much for sharing the line you heard today about regret; what a fantastic way to look at it. Cheers!

  10. mooderino says:

    Excellent advice!


  11. Elsie Park says:

    Great examples of turning lemons into lemonade! Thanks for the wonderful post and the great reminder to keep our heads up and try to learn something positive from every situation.

  12. Jennifer Lovett Herbranson says:

    Great post – thank you!

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