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How Failure and Rejection Lead To Success


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Have you ever wondered how life would be if you succeeded at every risk you took? Well, if every failure is a stepping stone to success, what's the difference? New York Times bestselling author Harlan Cohen has been on a lifelong journey to measure the constructs of ambition, perceived failure, and success.

He discovered that rejection is not a negative once we change our mindset and realize it's actually an opportunity in disguise. On this week's Motivational Mondays, Harlan shares one of his most poignant life lessons: with every rejection, we win, or we learn, but we never lose.



We all have different things we're afraid of. Whether it's fear of asking someone out, fear of raising your hand in class or at work, or fear of standing up for something you believe in, the outcome we all dread is rejection. 

As Harlan points out, rejection is a form of pain, and our brain processes rejection the same way it processes physical pain. So it's no wonder we are sometimes afraid to pursue dreams or go after what we want in life. The fear of rejection can be debilitating, and it influences us to avoid risks whenever we are uncertain of the outcomes.

On the flip side, we all can be over-confident at times, approaching life with a "how could someone not want me?" attitude.

Harlan explains this attitude of self-importance is a pitfall. We tell ourselves, "You know, I'm so interesting. I'm so attractive. I'm so dynamic. I'm so charismatic. I'm so talented. I'm all these things."

However, we then have an adverse reaction once we recognize not everything and everyone will respond to us the way we want. That's when we start internalizing rejection and questioning our worthiness. To overcome this, we must liberate ourselves by reassessing what rejection and failure are.



Harlan is passionate about using "failure" as a tool for success. As he shares, "It's not about failure. It's really about winning or learning and being in a place where you can listen and process when you don't always get what you want. So I mean, no, it is not failing."

Using Thomas Edison as an example, Harlan talks about how Edison failed a thousand times conducting experiments until he created the light bulb. All those failures that led up to that moment were a part of Edison's process to get him to the desired outcome.

Harlan understands there is a distinction between failure and rejection, though at times they do go hand in hand. Take, for example, another personal anecdote he shared. "One woman told me on the dance floor after I stepped on her foot, she turned to me and she was like, 'What the? Your ears are huge.' And I tried to be cool. And I'm like, 'Hey, do you find that attractive?' And she goes, 'No, you're ugly."

Harlan is aware that he has large ears, and admits, "My ears are huge." Still, that doesn't make such insults any easier to endure. He says, "We live in this world where so many people will say certain things that will hurt our feelings. But when we recognize that there's this truth of the universe, and when we feel good enough, when someone says no, or someone says your ears are big, or someone says, you didn't get the job, or someone says not now, well then all of a sudden it becomes: thank you for being so honest."



The path to yes is understanding why someone told you no. The only way that can happen, according to Harlan, is to approach the situation from a place of "genuine curiosity." He says, "When someone says no, and then you say 'I'm just curious, why?' And you say it with respect, and you say it with genuine curiosity, all of a sudden, they think, who is this person?"

Showing that you care about the 'why' is essential. As a columnist, Harlan shares that his success came from asking why he didn't get syndicated or land the job he wanted. It helped him realize it wasn't because he wasn't good enough. It was because of all these other circumstances that made him not the right fit at that moment. 

But Harlan encourages us to remember that people, situations, and circumstances change, giving us the opportunity to regroup, prepare and try again. Ultimately, Harlan was offered two contracts from two of the largest syndicates in the world.  

So it may seem cliche but, never give upaccept failure, ask why, and continue to move forward.



For young graduates just starting their professional careers or students trying to land a dream internship, Harlan suggests reminding yourself that you are worthy of success. This is essential to unleashing the power of rejection. 

He explains, “you can ask the question why, and what you're going to do is learn. It's going to be incredible because all of a sudden you're going to discover something that you might be able to change or something you might not be able to change." That clarity will make all the difference in how you move forward.

Harlan also talks about how approaching life with this attitude can help build relationships with people of power and influence, while providing new ways to help you improve. Perhaps the most vital piece of advice is being able to say "thank you" to someone for explaining why you were rejected, which exhibits humility and will immediately distinguish you from everyone else.

Remember, it's a long game, and rejection can provide an incredible opportunity to grow.


Listen to the exclusive members only bonus episode as Harlan Cohen shares his favorite personal rejection story and the importance of aligning yourself with people who can give you access to the career path you’ve chosen.