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Overcoming Rejection


The topic of today’s post is facing adversity or rejection. Not just rejection from a job, but rejection of your ideas, opinions or work at any level. With the rise of social media, we’re constantly getting feedback on our ideas by how likes or comments we get. And it’s happening in real time, on a very public stage.

So rejection is the theme of this Tim Ferriss podcast that I listened to with Debbie Millman. Debbie is one of the most prolific brand designers, who worked with Sterling Brands for 21 years and designed the Burger King rebrand and Star Wars merchandise. It’s been said that if you walk into a grocery store, Debbie had a hand in the design in 1 of 5 products on its shelves.

If you go to her LinkedIn profile, it’s an incredible collection of achievements: She’s the Host of Design Matters, Co-Founder of SVA’s Masters in Branding program… It’s a big list. Yet we find out that she’s faced relentless waves of rejection throughout her career.

It starts with being rejected from a writing job on her college school paper… to being the only person to not be re-elected when she first served on the board of the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). And then, the kicker, at a point where she’s risen to a modicum of success, someone publishes an open letter inferring that she’s a sellout and her work is a disgrace to the graphic design community. Can you imagine?! When the letter broke, her friend told her not to look at it until “she was in the privacy of her home, ideally with a big drink!”

As Debbie describes each of these rejections, we see how deeply vulnerable she is despite her accomplishments. Her feelings of self-doubt don’t go away. But the podcast is full of so many twists and turns and humility, you’ll ultimately find how each one of those rejections is reversed and ends of being a catalyst for even greater success.

What I love about this interview is that even though each rejection seems like the end of the world, we have the benefit of her 25+ year career to see that they weren’t. Rejection isn’t a “No, not ever.” But “No, not now.” or “No, not yet.” The idea isn’t fully formed, but you’re onto something. Go back to the drawing board.

The whole podcast is worth listening to, but I’ve also marked some of the passages I’ve described. I hope you enjoy it and that it gives you the courage to return to battle even when you’re feeling beat up.


Jump in podcast: Rejection could be “No, not now” (31:00-32:12). Public criticism via open letter to AIGA (1:08:15-1:09:40).

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