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What Chicken Soup for the Soul can teach us about finding conviction…

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the official newsletter of Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules. Each week, you’ll receive one story from the past, one study from the present, and one strategy for your future.

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Did You Know? You should expect to be rejected!

A story from the past

It’s 1989 and, after months spent on the speaking circuit, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen started observing a pattern: After their talks, people kept asking if they ever considered publishing the stories they told on stage. Intrigued by the consistent demand, the duo collected 101 feel-good short stories, secured a book agent, and traveled to New York City to find a publisher. 

But there was a problem: Nobody wanted to publish the book because “people don’t buy collections of short stories.” 14 months passed, and, by the 33rd rejection, Canfield and Hansen’s agent quit, saying, “I can’t sell this.”

Fueled by the continued support of their audience, Canfield and Hansen were determined to keep trying. So, in 1993, they attended a national booksellers convention. The pair walked from “booth to booth to booth,” asking representatives if they were interested. Their tally of rejections rose to 144

Then, as Canfield and Hansen were about to leave, a publisher said, “We’ll read it.” A few weeks later, they agreed to publish the book—but warned that it would sell “20,000 [copies] if we’re lucky.” Fast forward, and Chicken Soup for the Soul ended up selling over 500 million (500,000,000!) copies in over 40 languages, with 275 varying collections worldwide.

So, the next time you pass a Chicken Soup for the Soul on a bookshelf, remember: The book would not exist had Canfield and Hansen given up at 33—let alone 144—rejections.

Dusty Compton/The Tuscaloosa News, via Associated Press

A study of the present

What did Canfield and Hansen know that many don’t? Rejection happens—a lot. Specifically, rejection happens to an estimated average of…

Rejection is painful, yes. But it’s also a necessity on the road to success! You can’t succeed if you don’t try. It’s just that in many fields, you really do have to try—and try again (and again… and again…).

So what? It’s easy to perceive rejection as a personal slight or a personal failing. But rejection is a part of life—and if you haven’t gotten rejected yet, you might just not have tried enough times.

A strategy for your future

Feeling down from recent rejection? Or, is the fear of rejection preventing you from starting something in the first place?

If so, try this:

(1) Google “average number of applications” + whatever you’re trying to pursue (e.g., average number of applications + medical school or average number of dates) to get a sense of how many attempts you need to make at least. (Or, ask ChatGPT!)

(2) Whatever number(s) you find, tell yourself: “This is the average, which means that there are many people who make double—or even triple—this number of attempts. To set realistic expectations, I should plan to try more times than the average.”

(3) Tell yourself: “I only need one ‘yes’!”

Rejection hurts. In fact, almost 50% of job seekers were found to have lost their self-confidence after an average of only five rejections. But remember tip #3: You only need one “yes”!

I know it because I’ve experienced it: Had I abandoned The Unspoken Rules after 29 rejections from publishers, it would have forever remained a Google Doc. And had I abandoned my goals of business school after getting rejected the first time I applied, I would never have gotten an MBA. And these are just two of the many rejections I’ve faced in my life!

Expect the rejections—it’s the first step to your success!