Fear Rejection? Read This!

I received my first rejection letter the other day. It was a pretty heartbreaking. And I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to “take it in stride,” and “keep my chin up,” and “move forward,” and “dream bigger,” and all of those other things we’re supposed to do when things don’t go as we had hoped. But I couldn’t do any of those things. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Like I’d been lead on, then let down. I was hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed.

So I spent the day just being generally morose and mopey.

And then when people started getting sick of that attitude, I had to explain why I felt that way. Which meant I had to figure out why I felt that way. Sure, I was bummed that something I had tried hadn’t worked out. I was frustrated that I had invested time and energy into something I was confident would pay off and then it didn’t. I was defensive about being misunderstood. But it was more than all that.

It was that this was the first time I’ve ever received a rejection letter, so I didn’t have any practice dealing with the emotions that come with that. And that alerted me to a much bigger problem.

Why on earth am I getting my first rejection letter at the age of 32? I can promise you it’s not because I’m SO amazing that everyone in the world wants to hire me, fund my education, and publish my stuff. I’m pretty awesome, but no one is THAT awesome.

It’s because I’m not putting myself out there enough. I’m not giving anyone anything to reject.

When I was little I really wanted to be an actress. I dressed in gowns and practiced my oscar acceptance speeches and worked on my diva demands. But when it came time to audition, I was shy and terrified. I couldn’t even speak. While I yukked it up in middle school drama class, I never auditioned for the school plays because there was a chance I wouldn’t be cast.

In high school I fell in love with stories and majored in writing in college. I was positive I’d be an author or write regularly for magazines. My professors were always impressed with my work and I even won the University’s award of excellence in nonfiction writing. But I have never submitted a single piece for publication. Unfinished book proposals sit on floppy discs (Yes! Floppy discs!) that I don’t even know how to access. While I admire Stephen King and his story of pinning his first rejection letter to his wall as if it was a certificate of achievement, I was just not that brave. (By the way, if you’re at all interested in writing, Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the best books I’ve read about life as a writer.) I just couldn’t believe that anything I wrote was really good enough to be published, so I never even tried.

And so I’ve managed to make a life out of playing it safe. Now I can hear you saying, “But Emily! You put yourself out there every day with your business! You put your designs out in the world for everyone to judge. You write this blog that at least a dozen people including your parents and closest friends read!” But it’s different. I can design an invitation and put it on my site and maybe no one will buy it. But maybe that’s because no one is seeing it! And sometimes 2 years later someone DOES buy it! So putting something out there and not seeing an immediate reward isn’t really a “no.” It’s more of a “not yet.” Just like doing your hair and wearing your tight jeans to a bar and not getting hit on isn’t the same as asking someone out and having a drink thrown in your face.

So where is this long walk down memory lane headed? Oh yeah. To my wake up call. Getting a rejection letter was in no way a signal to stop trying. It was a call to try more. To try harder. To try often and with reckless abandon. To reach way beyond my grasp. To put myself out there in new and scary ways. I actually kind of thought this was something I was already doing. Building a business takes guts. I tell people all the time to stop analyzing, stop asking “what if?” and just go for it. And I thought that was how I was living my life. But if I’ve been able to skate through gently for over 30 years without making many waves, pissing anyone off, or getting any gut-punching rejections, then I haven’t been living big enough.

It’s almost as if I’ve been rejecting myself before I even had a chance to get rejected by someone else. And that is a really sad thought.

But what made this time different? Why did I put myself out there and submit my work when there was a chance it might not be accepted? Because I thought it was pretty good! I thought it would get accepted! And then it hit me–it actually is good. And I really didn’t need it to be accepted because I had already accepted it. So someone else rejected it. Bummer. They’re losing out on the chance to work with me. Their opinion doesn’t all of a sudden make my work not good enough. It just wasn’t a good fit. And in the long run, it’s probably for the best. Because if I’m wasting my time on pursuits that aren’t quite the right fit, I’m missing out on all of the right opportunities. And if I hold back and don’t show anything at all? Well then the whole world is missing out on what I have to offer.

So I’m issuing a call to action. Put yourself out there. Your raw, unfinished, imperfect self. Give yourself a chance. Write something, paint something, apply for something, submit something, enter a contest, try out for a team, audition for a show. Give the world a chance to love you. And if they don’t? Screw ’em. And write a blog about what you learned and get back out there.

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3 Ways to Say No Without Saying “No.”

I think at some point in our lives as mompreneurs, we all find ourselves saying “yes” to things when we really should be saying “no.” This is something I struggled with long before becoming an entrepreneur or a mom. I’m a Yes person. I enjoy helping people, I feel honored to be asked to do things, I hate missing out, and I love feeling like I did something that makes someone happy. But too often I find myself saying “yes” to too much. I over-commit, over-promise, and over-extend myself, which really doesn’t do anybody any favors. As my plate has gotten fuller with a growing business and a growing toddler, the room left to say “yes” to things has gotten much smaller and I’m having to learn how to say no. I can’t say “yes” to everything and do a good job at it all. So I’m learning how to carefully choose what I can (and want to) commit to and let go of the rest.

A big part of the whole “no” issue for me is that I feel guilty. The moment someone asks if I can do something, I feel like I’m letting them down if I can’t. I want to be a problem solver, and saying “no” feels like I’m leaving them in the lurch. But this doesn’t have to be the case! These are my three go-to answers when I want to say “yes,” but have to say “no.”

1. “Not now, but later.” Sometimes the request is for something I really want to do, but the timing’s just off. I really really do want to go to happy hour and catch up on gossip–but my family needs me more this week. I really really do want to attend every play group–but I have to complete my invitation orders instead. I really really do want to help you with your new logo, but I can’t devote the time until after wedding season. So the “not now, but later” response helps ease that fear of missing out. I’m not saying, “I’m too busy for you,” I’m just saying, “This week is really busy, next week would be better.” The tricky (but important) part is finding the time that does work. Sometimes a whole month is just crazy and I have to say, “Gosh, I am booked all month, which is insane! But I really want to see you, so let’s plan on getting drinks the first week of April.” Whether you have to say no for the week, the month, or even the whole season, pick a time that does work and communicate that. If you can’t find a time that works–then it’s probably not something you really want to say yes to.

2. “Not me, but her.” One of the greatest blessings of attending Stationery Academy is that I met two dozen incredibly talented designers that I get to call friends. People have asked me, “But aren’t you all in competition with one another?” and I can honestly say, “Not at all!” We all have unique styles and our own areas of expertise and it’s fabulous. One of my struggles as a designer is that I’ve tried to be everything to everybody. When someone asks, “Have you ever done ___?” my answer was always, “I haven’t, but I can!” I guess I was afraid to ever turn down any orders. Well as my brilliant friend Natalie Chang put it, “Just because you know how to do something, doesn’t mean you should.” I can’t be everything to everybody and still be true to myself. And–news flash–I’m not the solution to every problem! So sure, I can design whatever it is you’re asking about, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person for the job. I’ve found that when I say “yes” to jobs that aren’t my specialty, I spend way more time than I should on them and the client doesn’t get the absolute best design she possibly could. That sounds like a lose-lose to me. Now that I know so many great stationers, I can say, “You know, I’d absolutely love to work with you, and while I’d hate to turn you away, I know that I can’t do as great a job on that as you deserve. But I know just the girl for you! My friend specializes in exactly that style and she’ll take great care of you!” At first it felt weird to turn down orders, but it really is the best solution for everyone. My time is freed up to work on what I love working on, the client gets a better product working with someone who specializes in that style, and a friend gets a job that they enjoy!

3. “Not this, but that.” Sometimes I receive inquiries for products I used to offer, but have discontinued. It’s always hard to say, “You know, I don’t offer that anymore.” Again, it’s something I can do, something I used to do, and I hate to let people down. But I have to remind myself why I stopped carrying those items and stick with my decision. (Usually because they took more time than they were worth or because I couldn’t get the quality as perfect as I wanted.) So I’ve tried this strategy: instead of just saying no, I say, “Gosh, I’m no longer able to offer that. However, I do offer this!” and point them toward a similar, but better product. And they often say “Yes!” Usually more excited about the new product than the old one. Another win-win in my book. The customer gets what they need and want, and I feel good about working on it because it’s a product or design that I’m proud of.

So these examples are pretty specific to my life and line of work, but I think they really apply to almost anything! If you need to say no, but feel guilty or don’t want to miss out, rry out one of these strategies: pick a later date, refer a friend, or offer a different option that you wouldn’t mind saying “yes” to!

I want to hear from you! Comment below and let me know what you’ve been afraid to say “no” to. What can you say instead of “yes” that will be a win-win?