On Overcoming Rejection

Rejection feels bad. Sometimes I forget how to deal with it. Here are some of the strategies I keep forgetting.

2017 was huge for me. After discovering that I wanted to get into speaking at conferences, in 2017 I made those dreams a reality. I attacked the conference submission season with reckless abandon. I was going to submit anywhere, and let them tell me "no" instead of telling myself "no." There was some rejection here and there, but also a lot of success. At one point, I had received so many acceptances that I started retracting submissions. There are only so many weekends in a Wisconsin summer, and I didn't want to fill them all with conferences.

By the end of 2017, I'd spoken at a handful of events, and I was feeling really good about what 2018 would bring. Things got off to a good start. In the fall of 2017, I got accepted to two 2018 events - CodeMash in Ohio and WebCon in Illinois.

Unfortunately, I'd done a bad job of reading my calendar. When I shared the news with my wife, she reminded me that we had planned on taking the kids somewhere for spring break the week of WebCon. I avoided sending the email to WebCon for a week or two - but I had to decline the invite.


The second I sent the email, I said out loud "I've got some bad karma coming my way." One of the things I hate most in life is saying you'll do something, then backing out. Whether it's going to a concert, meeting for lunch, speaking at a conference, whatever - I am a reliable person, and doing things that chip away at my reliability make me mad.

Today, I received a notice from NDC Oslo 2018 that my sessions were not accepted. Nevermind the fact that NDC is a notoriously difficult conference to get into, and that I probably don't have the experience yet to get into an international conference. All I could think was "this is my 11th straight conference rejection since I sent that email to WebCon! It's obviously karma! @#$#@$!#$@#!!!"

After venting to some friends about how frustrated I am, I am done with this nonsense. This whole WebCon/karma/0-11 thing is just a story I keep telling myself. It's got a nice narrative quality to it. It would make good TV.

But it's stupid. It's just a set of events that happened. It doesn't define me. I let it define me in my self-talk, too much. But I know that it doesn't.

In talking to people recently about how frustrated I am with my "curse," one suggestion consistently arose. "Stop it. Channel this into something productive." So with that, here are some things we all need to remember to do when we are feeling rejected. Yes, "we." This is as much for me as it is for you.

Talk To Someone

This is probably the simplest and most obvious thing we can do. But I'm saying it anyway - because sometimes I forget to do it, so maybe you do too. I've let this karma storyline fester in my mind for a long time. Saying it out loud to people helps me remember that I'M JOKING and this is not a thing to actually believe.

Hopefully you have someone who is better at listening than I am (developers just want to fix things!). Saying things to someone else feels so much better than saying them to yourself. This is probably because we treat ourselves like total crap with our self-talk.

Change Your Self-Talk

Think about the things you say to yourself when things aren't going your way. It's not good, right? Today I said to myself "Why the f*** am I doing this anymore?" I actually said that to David Pine, too. He correctly told me to stop being a dummy.

You'd never say those awful words about a friend who was struggling. "Why the f*** are you still doing that? You're terrible at it." Even writing it as a hypothetical situation feels ridiculous.

Treat yourself like you'd treat your friends. Build yourself up. Don't tear yourself down. Again, maybe this is obvious to you. It's obvious to me too, but it doesn't mean that I don't forget to do it sometimes.

Find A Mantra

Mantras are a big help for me getting through challenges.

For sports-y things, the one I always use is "Come on." This is a thing that rock-climbers say a lot to each other, especially when bouldering, as they are about to make a tough move. I'm actually not totally sure if it's a thing ALL rock climbers say, or if it's just a thing that they say at the gym I climb at. It's a phrase that I say to myself when I need a confidence boost. It gives me instant strength and power.

I didn't really have a mantra for rejection, until today. I found this one on the internet, and I like it.

My "failures" are stepping stones to success.

I think it is something I'm going to keep around, for moments like today. Maybe repeating a mantra can help you, too.


I'm trying to get more regular at meditation. One of the things that really helped me get into speaking was weekly guided meditation from my yoga instructor. I've struggled to find time to do it since then, but I think I just recently found a time that I can get 5 minutes in every day.

Meditation has been really helpful for me. If you haven't tried it, or it's been a while, I recommend it. I use the whil app because it is free through work, but I wouldn't hesitate to try another one. If you're pretty good with focus, you probably don't even need an app. Sometimes I just need it to keep me from chasing shiny things.

After I finished venting about my NDC rejection, the first thing I did was a "confidence" meditation. It helped a ton. It is a guaranteed and immediate way to change your self-talk. Try it some time.

Promote The Things That Are Working

Here are some things that have gone my way during the time that I've been declined by 11 conferences.

  • I got a new job, and I really like it!
  • I spoke at CodeMash! That's also a pretty hard conference to get into!
  • While I was there, I got to hang out with the guy who inspired me to start speaking at conferences! We talked about our families!
  • Also while I was there, I put together a lightning talk in one day, and it was the most fun talk I've ever given!
  • Just today, Dave Rael released a new Developer On Fire podcast episode, featuring me! This is awesome. The guests he has on are some of my heroes. To even be CONSIDERED to be on his podcast is an honor.
  • I scheduled a time to talk to Clark Sell on the AskTHAT series! This is exactly the kind of stuff I want to do to propel myself into speaking greatness!
  • Other things I'm not remembering or can't really talk about!

Instead of worrying about how long the streak is going to go before I get accepted, I'm going to tell people about that stuff. Maybe this approach of promoting the positive can help us focus on the things that make us feel good about ourselves.

Create Something

I had a lot of negative energy when I got the NDC email. That kind of energy doesn't really help anyone. Again, we all know this....this is just a friendly reminder.

Channeling that energy into this post has been really helpful. It's removed the thoughts of "Why am I still even trying???" from my head, and replaced them with ideas. Ideas that will become blog posts, and talks, and abstracts.

For me, channeling the energy means "producing something helpful." For you, channeling it might mean "expressing your feelings". The medium might be art, it might be writing, it might even be code. Whatever it is, creative energy is so much more valuable than destructive.

I know you know these things. I know them too. Let's keep reminding each other, okay?

Keep Laying Seeds

When I woke up today, I was frustrated about rejection #10, which I'd received last night. Lying in bed, I reminded myself something I've been thinking a lot lately -

Just keep laying seeds. Eventually some of them will grow.

This afternoon, I overheard a coworker say almost the exact same thing about buying stocks. I consider this to be official confirmation that this is a good approach.

I'm going to keep throwing submissions at conference CFPs. I hope you lay more seeds, too. If we keep it up, eventually one is going to grow like Jack's beanstalk.