THE BLOG
01/16/2015 03:08 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2015

Moving From 'Why Not Me?' Toward Success

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Whether in a relationship, on the job or at school, failure and rejection are two things we have all experienced at one point or another.

It is these moments in our lives that we seem to carry with us for the longest period of time. I, for example, can't remember what I had for lunch last week Wednesday, but I do remember being rejected for a college scholarship. I can't remember what I wore to work last week on Monday, but I certainly remember failing at my first attempt to present my project results in the German language in front of my classmates (more on this later).

I think you get the point. Failure and rejection have an immense impact on our lives.

Frustration, anger, rage, disappointment and envy are all emotions that flood the brain immediately after experiencing failure and rejection. There is also a tendency to ask the question "why not me?" We begin to doubt ourselves and tend to dwell on these confidence-shattering events.

Lucky for us, some of the world's most successful people have failed and been rejected as well, and they offer some great words of encouragement:

  • "Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." --Winston Churchill
  • "It's failure that gives you the proper perspective on success." -- Ellen DeGeneres
  • "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." -- Thomas A. Edison

I don't know about you, but for me, these are the last phrases I want to hear directly after being rejected or experiencing failure. The one that gets me going the most is "Now just remember, when one door closes, another door opens." But I wanted to go through that door.

There is, however, no avoiding these golden nuggets of encouragement, especially since they are used to serve as motivation across all the relevant social media channels. Don't get me wrong. These quotes can be encouraging. What is missing is the action plan behind the quotes. How do you move from this "why not me" feeling and the accompanying confidence drain, toward an "I have what it takes. I can be successful," mindset?

Here are three places one could start:

1. Don't Dwell

The idea of not dwelling on failures and rejection is easier said than done. The initial feelings of anger, resentment and hopelessness can quickly take hold of a situation and lead to nonconstructive actions. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and move on. Here are few ways this can be achieved:

Schedule a specific time for reflection:

We learn from our failures. Therefore, it is important to reflect on what went wrong and how it can be done better next time. Reflection can turn unproductive and into lengthy dwelling if there is not a limit. This is why it is best to set aside thirty minutes or an hour to reflect on the rejection or failure. It is of course somewhat of a mind game and a distraction is required once the hour for reflection has expired.

Find the right distraction:

After constructively reflecting, it is important to distract the mind from the recent failure or rejection. This distraction will differ from person to person but could include exercising, reading a book, watching a movie or hanging out with a friend.

Seek Closure:

In certain situations, dwelling can be curbed by getting to the bottom of the situation. For example, upon receiving a rejection for what appeared to be a dream job, it may be a good idea to follow up on the rejection with an email seeking further feedback as to why the company decided to go another direction, especially if the rejection appears to be quite generic.

2. Set Small, Achievable Goals

After being rejected or failing at something, it is tough not to give up. That is why it is important to set small, achievable goals to serve as positive reinforcement along the path toward the achievement of long term goals. I like using my German language failure experience mentioned above as an example.

I moved to Germany in January 2009 with zero German language skills. Eight months into my expat experience, I started studying for my master's degree and was tasked with presenting a part of the results from a group project. I worked hard, but still felt insecure with my language skills, so I decided to memorize my part of the presentation. When it came time to present, I was doing great until I was interrupted by a question. I did not understand the question and my group had to bail me out. I did not speak for the remainder of the presentation.

Needless to say, I was not happy with my performance. I went back to my seat and decided to set small, achievable goals that would get me to the point where I could say: "I am fluent in German." These included:

  • Learn 10 new vocabulary words per day
  • Attend the German language class offered at the university
  • Visit a tutor once a week for individual lessons
  • Read (and understand) a German mystery novel
  • Complete one online lesson per week on my own

Six years later, I can definitely claim I am fluent in German and I have, for the most part, the completion of my small, achievable goals to thank for that.

3. Find a Mentor

Lastly, I believe working with a mentor is a great idea when trying to shift gears from "why not me" to "I have what it takes." It is very likely that someone has already been where you are trying to go. This may sound harsh, but it is often true.

Drawing on the German language example again; I became an expat in Germany and set out to become fluent in a second language. Am I the first person to do this? The answer is clearly, no. I found several people who were able to offer helpful tips and tricks to accomplishing my long term goal.

In the end, finding a mentor could lead to a higher success rate and help avoid mistakes and failures already made by others with first-hand experience. This could mean reaching out to them directly, reading one of their books, or following them on social media.

Closing Words

By no means do I want to downplay the level of difficulty of recovering from rejection and failure. Failing is not fun. Our reaction to the failure is, however, the key to success. I certainly cannot argue against the wise words of the people quoted above. That being said, having a plan on how to deal with the failure and rejection that is thrown our way is essential to becoming successful. Otherwise, we may become stuck in a never-ending cycle of "why not me?"

Now it's your turn. How do you move on from failure and rejection toward success?