As the Olympics in PueongChang, South Korea have taken Center Stage, athletes from around the globe have converged to compete for the coveted gold. As the athletic accomplishments of these men and women are celebrated, we often forget those looking from the sidelines who had their Olympic dreams dashed by unexpected falls, split second decisions or controversial judgments. Have you ever wondered what happened to those who came so close to realizing their Olympic dreams or the characteristics of those leaders who deal successfully with rejection, disappointment and loss?
Consider for example, Vera Wang. She failed to make the 1968 US Olympic figure-skating team and was devastated. Then, she became an editor at Vogue, and was passed over for the editor-in-chief position. At 40, she began designing wedding gowns and today is a premier designer in the fashion industry, with a business worth over 1 billion dollars. And, never losing her interest in skating, she has designed outfits for figure skating champions, Nancy Kerrigan and in 2018, for Nathan Chen’s short program.
What makes one leader overcome defeat and rejection while another fails to move on? What motivates one leader to learn from disappointment and another to decide never to try again? Research reports suggest that there are distinct characteristics of those who overcome setbacks and those who do not.
Consider these four ways to overcome disappointment and rejection. Successful leaders:
1. Acknowledge it. Instead of suppressing, denying or making excuses, they address the emotions they are feeling and do not minimize the frustration and disappointment. It is a chance to process what happened with trusted advisors and your inner circle about what to do next time.
2. Continue to Push the Envelope. Resilient people and leaders recognize that most aspirations and goals aren’t achieved immediately or at all. Show others that you are pushing yourself to learn and grow even through times of discomfort. Successful leaders model how to lose and handle moments of defeat gracefully.
3. Are Realistic and Encourage Themselves. After a disappointment, strong-minded individuals are realistic and use affirmations to reframe the situation positively. They avoid negative self-talk and focus on the next steps to take rather than letting one moment in time define who they are.
4. Learn from the Experience. Effective leaders seek to learn from each experience whether successful or not. They look for ways to improve the situation or gain insights about how to avoid something similar in the future. They ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. They ask questions, examine what could have been done differently, and become better and stronger for the next challenge or opportunity.
As the Olympics comes to a close, notice the reactions of the athletes who miss standing on the podium. Most, while devastated in the moment, bounce back quickly with what they will do next, encourage others and celebrate that they ARE an Olympian. (Remember Shaun White who won gold in his first two Olympics, went medal-less in Sochi, and fought his way back to win gold in 2018.) While professional rejection of any kind is disheartening, good can come from it. When lessons are learned and suggestions are applied, the rejection may serve a purpose to help improve your work, develop new skills or implement new practices. Remember, everyone experiences rejection. And, no matter who you are, your life is changed because of it. The question is, will the rejection take you down or will you leverage it for good in your life—or to make the world a better place?