Debbie Messemer, managing partner at KPMG San Francisco
Courtesy of KPMG
By Debbie Messemer
April 8, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How should every successful woman deal with rejection? is written by Debbie Messemer, managing partner at KPMG San Francisco.

First and foremost, keep in mind that rejection may not mean what you think it does. It may just mean not now, not yet, or not this way. So before determining your path forward, dig deeper to find out what the rejection really means.

For example, if you are turned down for a promotion, ask for specifics on how you can improve your skills or what you need to do to demonstrate you can handle more responsibilities. Sit down with your performance manager, mentor or sponsor and develop a plan for becoming a better candidate for the promotion and then determine when you could reasonably try again.

And always respond to rejection with grace, even if you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated. It’s okay to give yourself 24 hours to be disappointed, but then get back on your horse and move on. Outwardly displaying frustration for an extended period can hurt you and your reputation in the long run. In business, if your proposal to management or to a prospective client is rejected, you can’t afford to spend time dwelling on the rejection. Instead, take time to solicit direct feedback as to what the team should have done differently; leverage this information for future opportunities.

Above all, don’t allow rejection to keep you from dreaming. With dreams, we have goals, and with goals we have purpose. That path to fulfilling one’s dreams is rarely a straight line–it’s often not even close to the path you originally envisioned. So treat rejection as an opportunity to decide your next step. And having an open mind helps. After graduating from college in Texas, I was focused on building a career there. I wasn’t thinking about moving to California until my client in Dallas purchased a bank in San Francisco. This not only helped provide an opportunity to become a partner in our firm, but it also provided me with a broader platform to become the first female managing partner of our San Francisco market.

As I look back at my own career, the rejections I faced were temporary set-backs on the way to bigger and better opportunities. Learning from my experiences and continuing to set lofty goals personally and professionally paved the path to where I am today.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How should every successful woman deal with rejection?

Why even the best employees need to experience failure by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

You’ve made a mistake at work. Now what? by Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises.

How rejection made me a better employee (27 years later) by Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group.

How to bounce back from rejection at work by Kathy Collins, CMO at H&R Block.

The upside of failure by Cathy Baron Tamraz, chairwoman and CEO of Business Wire.

3 steps to overcome rejection at work by Shiza Shahid, co-founder and ambassador of Malala Fund

How to avoid overreacting at work by Mary Civiello, president of Civiello Communications Group.

Why the best leaders are defined by their failures by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

5 stages of rejection (and how to deal) by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

Keep making mistakes at work? Here’s how to recover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

How to successfully deal with rejection at work by Beth Monaghan, principal and co-founder of InkHouse.

How to shake off rejection like Taylor Swift by Beth Comstock, senior vice president and CMO of General Electric.

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