Every Day I Try and Get Rejected

by Ryan on April 12, 2011

Jack Welch and Suzy Welch Photo

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy.  You get rejected a lot.  Whether it’s trying to chase down a new customer, pitching investors, recruiting new content providers, sending cold emails / cold calls to partners, journalists, and colleagues, there are just so many times when you’ll be rejected.  Rejection itself can take many forms.  A more polite rejection would be a terse “No thank you” response or the more frequent no reply.  Sometimes it takes on the more harsh form of  “Go f@ck yourself” or some variation thereof.

It’s certainly common to take a rejection as an indication of failure, and it’s the fear of failure that serves one of the primary reasons that people shun away from starting a business, engaging in a new relationship, or otherwise “hanging out their shingle”.  It’s this exact fear of failure that so that often prevents good people from being entrepreneurial.  They’re afraid of the daily moments of rejection that come along with creating something new and / or working for oneself.

To make it as an entrepreneur, YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO EMBRACE REJECTION.

I’m lucky in that somewhere along the road I developed thick skin.  Perhaps it was growing up with an older brother or maybe it’s something I just picked up along the road.  Wherever I got it from, I learned to embrace and welcome rejection.  Rejection started happening to me so often that instead of letting it get to me, I decided that I should use it as a motivator.  Allow me to give an example…

Back in late 2004 I wanted to be a photographer.  At the time I was working for the world’s largest celebrity photo agency, WireImage, as Controller.  But I wanted to do more than just crunch numbers, I wanted to shoot celebrity events.  Because I’m a CPA, it’s often overlooked that I’m creative.  Somehow the CPA designation (which took me just 2 years to get) overshadows the fact that I majored in Art History in college (w/ a minor in Studio Art) and that I’ve been studying and creating art (oil paintings, sculpture) since I was 10, and have received a number of awards and displayed in national museums. Nevertheless, when I asked the assignment desk at WireImage if I could shoot, they rejected me.

Instead of letting this rejection get to me, I used it as a motivator. I went out and found events that the desk wasn’t already covering.  At the time, no one was shooting book signings.  My first book signing was with Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE.  I went to Borders on Wall St, just down the block from my apartment in NYC.  I bought Jack’s new book and got in line for an autograph.  When I got to the front of the line not only did Jack sign the book for me, but he also let me take a few quick photos of him and his wife Suzy. Following the event, I showed the pics to the assignment desk that had rejected me, and they agreed that because I was the exclusive photographer at the event, I could load them to WireImage.

The images were quickly picked up by 60 Minutes who was in the process of doing an interview with Jack.  It’s the image you see at the beginning of this post.  I went on to photograph hundreds of events over a 3.5 year period and it got to the point where I’d routinely be requested by publicists to cover and in certain circumstances I even had better access than WireImage’s own staffers.

It’s in these moments of rejection that you can truly learn and grow.  That’s why EVERY DAY I TRY AND GET REJECTED.  I push the limits as much as I can and do things that have a high likelihood of rejection.  I enjoy the challenge of a rejection and I use rejection as a motivator.  When I get rejected, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I actually feel sorry for the person that rejected me and I yearn to change their opinion or otherwise win over their business.

Related Articles:

This post from Ben Horowitz (of Andreessen Horowitz) on CEO psychology

  • After 30 years of freelance photography, I know rejection. I think the most terse rejection was when I wanted to show my portfolio to a photo editor and his reply was, “I don’t have time to sit and chat with folks.” Most weren’t that severe and some were actually encouraging.

  • paige craig

    awesome post Ryan! You are totally correct man; you should embrace the chaos of life and that means the positive as well as the negative. Rejection, failure, “F You’s” are all positive if you seek to learn from them. If you think you’re an entrepreneur you better love dealing with this negativity; if you spend most of your time on the happy, happy smoke people blow up your ass you’re gonna be in a for a big wakeup call someday soon. Luckily as a first-time entrepreneur you’ll hopefully get a lot of honest feedback. A unique irony for second-time entrepreneurs (assuming you did decently well on your first company or two) is that you may find yourself surrounded by a comfy world of yes-women and yes-men who will tell you how awesome your idea/product/vision is. Don’t get sucked into that world too much; the positive feedback is great but you really need to get out there and identify smart naysayers – particularly if this is your second or third time at bat. Seek out customers, partners, angels, VCs, and employees who have a healthy criticism and learn from them.

  • Thanks for the comment John! It’s amazing how some people just don’t even want to do the job they are tasked to do. A photo editor telling a photographer he / she has no time to review is like a sales person blindly telling a customer we don’t feel like selling to you today.

  • Thanks so much for the fabulous advice Paige! It’s such a sound point that you should surround yourself with those who are willing to disagree and challenge your opinion. If everyone’s agreeing with you, I take that as a sign that somethings definitely wrong because it’s impossible to truly please everyone. Cheers!

  • Love the post, and suggest ending it with a call out to tell best rejection stories in the comments, which I’ll do for you now 🙂

    In 2003 I met a lovely model who wanted to start a clothing company and after a couple weeks of slow starts she started screaming (literally) YOU’RE USELESS, YOU CAN’T HELP ME, YOU CAN”T DO ANYTHING!!!

    1yr later, selling in 200+ boutiques around the world, Wet Seal, Forever21, and several national retailers I phoned her to see if she’d model my line for Tokyo fashion week, which she accepted.

  • What an amazing story by Tyler. That’s exactly the you handle rehjection! What’s your best rejection story? Share it in the comments here please…

  • Great post Ryan!

    Reminds me of a similar post by Chris Dixon: http://cdixon.org/2010/09/12/getting-rejected/

  • Amazing! I’m a big fan of Chris but has never read that post. There’s many similarities and the “thick skin” line is identical. Very cool and thanks for sharing Jon!

  • and BTW…nice instagram photos!

  • mgwitham

    Humans are social. Humans need connection to others. Humans search to be accepted. It drives our thoughts and behaviors. We go to hip bars, follow the hottest trends, and sometimes do or say things just to fit in. We want others to like us…

    Rejection is the antithesis of acceptance from others. We recoil from it as if a hot flame and can act incredibly irrational in order to avoid it. The Ivory Coast president locked himself in a house, eventually leading to his arrest, after being rejected as the president of his country. Your ideas, beliefs, appearance, can all be rejected. Rejection permeates our lives. It’s a built in risk we all share when we express ourselves.

    The prerequisite to accepting rejection (let alone embracing it) is believing in your ideas and self; being internally whole. Rejection stings, nobody likes it…but it provides the opportunity to self reflect and change. It’s the node in a decision tree where one has the choice to throw a pity party and self loath, or make the decision to re-evaluate, adjust and trudge forward. We all fail, we all get rejected…but how we handle ourselves when we are rejected is what makes us unique. It separates the men from the boys…

    “I’m not afraid to bury a company…” -Launch 2011

  • mgwitham


  • OMG such an amazing comment Michael. I am humbled and grateful. On the road to a conference in Vegas with Noah. Wish u were here with us.

    —– Reply message —–

  • mgwitham

    All you need to do is ask… I can’t wait to host you guys out here in Tempe at the Open Source Project.

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  • Ah I know rejection well! Well not rejection more a “you are great when I think I can get pictures for free, but not worth paying”. Just how do you know when you are good enough to carry on and ignore the rejection?

  • You are good enough and tell them u work hard and that photos are not free regardless of their option on quality.

  • Learning to embrace rejection is creative way to move forward and develop a strong mind! Cool!

  • Thanks so much Josh! Glad to find you hear.

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