Don’t be stuck in a box, looking at others having fun. Illustration: Ashley Siebels
When your boss turns down your idea, it’s natural to feel wounded: you put yourself on the line with some original pitch, and then it was rejected.
The chances are, however, the boss isn’t saying “no” to hurt you. She’s doing it to get you to think up a better idea. And when companies reject you for a job, they’re not trying to ruin your future. They’re usually looking for the best fit.
That’s why the best thing you can immediately do when facing a “no” is refuse to take it personally. Take a deep breath.
The most important thing is to resist the spiral into despair. We may misinterpret that ‘no’ as a sign that we’re being undervalued, and we’ll self-sabotage ourselves to meet those lower expectations: “nothing I do matters anyway, so why even try?”
But Harvard Business Review research explains how you can turn that ‘no’ into a success through a company case study on people who made the best out of their boss’ rejection.
A 2016 study found that resource scarcity leads to more creativity as the constraints force us to “think beyond the traditional functionality of a given product.”
Make it work, even if it’s ‘garbage’
HBR uses the story of a retail business manager’s dilemma on he how made a best-seller out of an inferior product he couldn’t return
After this manager was told that he couldn’t return a large quantity of poorly-made tube dresses back to the warehouse, he decided to reevaluate the product “because [o]therwise, they’re gonna be sitting here forever.” He decided to cut off the flimsy straps and sell the product as a superior beach cover-up. It became a best-seller.
As this anonymous manager told a different study, “Sometimes when I get stuff that I think is personally garbage, I have to look at it as a challenge: ‘How am I gonna make it work?'”
Necessity and limits can be the spark to all creativity, as long as employees and managers feel empowered to take their resources into new directions.
Famous fashion consultant Tim Gunn critiqued the lack of designers making clothes for plus-size women under this mindset. In his Washington Post essay on the subject, he argued that, “I profoundly believe that women of every size can look good. But they must be given choices….There’s an art to doing this. Designers, make it work.”
You may not have an ideal team, enough resources, or unlimited time or money, but you have your mind and your will to achieve your goals despite these setbacks. Researchers say that people succeed despite these ‘no’s’ when they overcome “threat rigidity,” or the fear to think we’re personally at fault or under threat during times of professional adversity.
But you can unstuck yourself. Spend less time worrying about what you don’t have, and focus that energy on making do with what you already have. As Steve Martin puts it, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”