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How failure helped me start my own business

April 9, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Maren Kate Donovan

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 Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual.

If I knew in my younger years what I do now about being rejected, I would have saved myself countless hours of disappointment (while on the verge of tears) simply because I heard the word no. Then, a simple quote from a mentor of mine completely flipped how I view rejection on its head: The successful become successful by hearing ‘no’ nine times a year and ‘yes’ once. Let that marinate for a second: you should expect to face rejection nine times more often than you succeed.

It’s a little statistic that I like to keep in mind. Whether the board shot down your proposal or the weekend getaway was overruled, gracefully dealing with rejection requires a reality check. I faced rejection many times while building Zirtual–first from Y Combinator and then by the Founder Institute. Both were huge blows to my confidence, but I stayed resilient. I challenged the Founder Institute rejection in a letter explaining why I thought Zirtual would be an excellent fit for the program. To my surprise, it worked! I went through the program in 2011, emerging with the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to build Zirtual for long term success.

Learning what rejection doesn’t mean is important. Rejection doesn’t mean never; it just means you may have to resort to plan B, C, or even D. Resilience without stubbornness is how I get through rejection. And if I’m invested in an idea, I’ll see it through until someone points out a critical flaw I missed or I realize option B is better.

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

Why women need to stop holding back at work by Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University.

So you didn’t get the promotion. What’s next? by Debbie Messemer, managing partner at KPMG San Francisco.

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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