My top rejections of 2016

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Rejection hurts. Sometimes it hurts a little more than other times, but it still does hurt.

But, rejection is a part of life. If you never get rejected, you’re not really trying.

In 2016, I quadrupled my creative output. But, I got rejected harder and more frequently than any year before. I’m hoping for bigger and better rejections in 2017.

I reviewed my 2016 rejections, and it didn’t feel good. I had to relive them all at once. But, it was a valuable exercise, and — if nothing else—you can take some sadistic pleasure in reading about them.

My book proposal was rejected (5 times)

This was my hardest rejection of 2016, if not of my career. I spent three months writing a 72-page book proposal. It was rejected. It wasn’t rejected by publishers — it didn’t get that far. I sent it to five agents, and I still don’t have an agent. Mind you, I’m already a best-selling author, but I still got rejected.

I got rejected by The New York Times

I’m not sure the best way to get published in The New York Times, but they accept submissions through their column Modern Love. I submitted a piece, and it was rejected.

My podcast interview requests were rejected

I’m going to name names here, for the sake of understanding the scope and level of rejection. Every time I invite someone to be on my podcast, I’m always relieved when they accept. There’s always a chance of rejection.
If you’re one of these people, I take no offense to your rejection. I offered an opportunity, and you (or your people) decided it wasn’t right for you. There could be a million other reasons, and I have no way of knowing.
If you’re not one of these people, please don’t pester them on my behalf.

There were the real Hail Marys, who I never expected to accept in the first place: Louis CK didn’t respond, and Bruce Springsteen’s people said no (an accomplishment in itself). Mike Birbiglia also didn’t respond.

There were the people you’ve probably never heard of, but who are big in their worlds: performance artist Marina Abramović (her people said no), William MacAskill (author of Doing Good Better).

There were the people who I still think would benefit from being on my podcast, but who didn’t accept. My podcast isn’t incredibly popular, so that could be part of it. Again, I have no way of knowing.

Tim Ferriss didn’t respond to three emails. I timed my request to correspond with the launch of his book, Tools of Titans.

Seth Godin rejected my request twice.

Angela Duckworth (author of Grit) and Kelly McGonigal (author of The Willpower Instinct) both didn’t respond.

Adam Grant’s (author of Originals) people rejected my request.

I was very excited to get a verbal acceptance from Malcolm Gladwell, but he stopped responding to my schedule proposals. I’ll keep trying. A friend who interviewed him said it was tough to book.

My blog posts were rejected

I posted on Medium a lot throughout 2016. Many of my posts were rejected in the sense that they didn’t resonate with people. They didn’t generate many views, or Recommends, and people weren’t highlighting them.

I wrote a post every weekday for two months, and pretty much every one of those was rejected in the above sense. Then I started getting better, and my posts now tend to perform better.

I was rejected by my readers

Most comments were by people who liked my writing, but some people hated it, and said so. A good portion clearly didn’t read the article, which I guess is a form of rejection.

I was rejected by my email subscribers

Thousands and thousands of people unsubscribed from my email list, thus rejecting the body of work I’ve spent my adult life building.

At least one responded to an email with only two words: “fuck you.” Is that a rejection, or a proposal?

I was rejected by McSweeny’s Internet Tendency

I submitted two articles. One was rejected. The other, fortunately, was accepted and received very well. Someone on Twitter rejected it, though. My piece was not funny to that person.

I was rejected by podcast sponsors

Many didn’t respond, Midroll told me my podcast wasn’t big enough.

My body is still rejecting itself

I have some kind of autoimmune condition in which my body is attacking itself. My doctor calls it “Chronic Lyme Disease,” though it’s not possible to be sure. In any case, I have constant inflammation, and it’s difficult to manage. Two years after diagnosis, my body is still rejecting itself.

I rejected others

I was on the receiving end of rejection many times in 2016, but I also dished it out. It’s not fun to reject others, but it’s necessary.

I deleted lots of emails with the subject line “quick question.” I unsubscribed from many newsletters that I never signed up for. I unchecked the email preference box on many new email categories that LinkedIn invented over the year.

I turned down almost every pitch of guests for my podcast. I have to already be curious about someone to interview them. I turned down podcast sponsorships that didn’t fit the show, or where I didn’t think the advertiser would benefit.

I turned down numerous speaking engagements that would have been fun travel opportunities. Because my body is rejecting itself, my health takes a toll when I travel. It’s better for me to stay at home and write.

I ignored many emails that were too long, wherein someone asked me a litany of questions — often questions that no human could answer. I got many Twitter replies that I didn’t want to answer at the moment, then later, I forgot about them, and I never replied.

Rejection is not good or bad, it just is

One day, I pitched a friend on a panel idea for SXSW. He rejected my idea.

So, I came up with an idea for my own talk. Then SXSW rejected my idea.

But a publisher liked my idea. They gave me a book deal.

After I got the book deal, SXSW started liking my idea, and they invited me to speak. The following year, I spoke to a ballroom of nearly 900 people.

Rejection hurts, but rejection is powerful. In a moment of rejection, you can either blame someone else, or you can look more closely at yourself, and ask why. Rejection makes you look harder for the right opportunity. The right opportunity leads to new opportunities.

If you accept opportunities that aren’t right for you, everyone loses. Don’t be afraid to reject others.

Amidst these rejections, big wins

As much as I got rejected, I had more big breakthroughs than ever this year. This was a year where I doubled down on being a writer and podcaster, so there was bound to be a learning curve.

My work was published in Observer, The Huffington Post,, Quartz, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Upworthy, Lifehacker, and The Muse.

I became a writer on some of Medium’s most popular publications, such as The Mission and Startup Grind.

I worked directly with Medium on a commissioned piece.

I did a Quora Session.

I interviewed James Altucher, Dan Ariely, Jason Fried, Ryan Holiday, Noah Kagan, Laura Roeder, and many more.

Next year, bigger rejections

As I reviewed my rejections for 2016, I felt something strange. I felt a tinge of regret. I wished I had been rejected more, and for bigger opportunities. I could have pitched journalists more. I could have submitted more writing to bigger publications. In 2017, I hope to do more of these things. I hope to have bigger and better rejections.

If making progress is important to you, the worst thing you can do is protect yourself completely from rejection. Reach for opportunities that are easy wins, but throw some Hail Marys once in awhile. You’ll be surprised how often you hit your target.

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