As a freelancer, saying no is an empowering thing. Discerning that an opportunity isn’t right and turning it down can be energizing. Hearing no, on the other hand, is pretty terrible. Rejection is difficult. When you’re not the one to decide an opportunity isn’t right for you, it stings. However, hearing no is far better than hearing nothing.
A few months ago I did something I never do. I sent a cold email to a publisher to pitch a book idea. Much to my surprise, I got a response! We exchanged several emails over several days. We even collaborated and refined my idea. Eventually, she asked for a writing sample. She offered to take the sample to her partners and see if they were interested in seeing a more fleshed-out proposal.
I worked on the sample for a few days, got some feedback, and tried to keep my expectations in check. Certainly, I wasn’t counting my royalties before the ink was dry on the non-existent agreement, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little excited. As I wrote, I could imagine holding the finished the book in my hand. I hit “send” and began the waiting process.
An hour passed – the first hour is always the hardest – and then a day, and then a week. I heard nothing. After three weeks of no response, not even an, “I received your sample, and I’ll look it over,” I decided to follow up. I sent an email asking if she’d had time to look over the sample and letting her know I was still excited about putting a formal proposal together. In response, I received nothing — absolute radio silence.
It’s been more than thirty days since I sent the writing sample and I’m interpreting her “no comment” as a formal “no.” But, I’m in a weird kind of limbo. This is the first time I’ve been ghosted in a professional setting. It stings.
Hearing no is far better than hearing nothing.
The Consequences of Hearing No
Being turned down professionally is always tough. Hearing no is humbling. But I’ve learned that there is a distinct advantage to hearing no. Once the sting wears off, no offers some positive consequences.
Hearing no puts a period at the end of the sentence. It’s a definitive end to a metaphorical journey. No takes the possible out of the possibility. It provides permission to be sad, or angry, or disappointed. No starts the grieving process.
Hearing no offers an opportunity for feedback. In a best-case scenario, a “no” comes with a “why.” That criticism helps you improve your work and, hopefully, gets you closer to “yes” next time.
Hearing no is motivating. If you’re competitive like I am, no makes you even hungrier for the next yes. A no can be an incentive to move forward.
Choose “No” Over “No Comment”
Our constantly-connected world has made “no comment” all too common. Who among us hasn’t ignored or failed to respond to a text, email, or voicemail? It happens. We have messages coming at us from every direction and at every hour of the day. It’s easy to miss things unintentionally or intentionally.
Also, I get it; it’s tough to say no when someone is excited about a project. It’s no fun to offer feedback when someone’s work doesn’t meet your standards. Being the bearer of bad news is a drag. But, it’s the respectful thing to do.
While I wouldn’t have enjoyed hearing no, this experience has taught me that no is far better than no comment.