“Successful individuals” – the exact definition of whom is an elusive concept for me personally – impart their wisdom from the pinnacle of triumph and relate how they built their careers from the ground up – starting with a single table, scavenging for discarded bottles, and sleeping in a makeshift bed. Despite the numerous ups and downs, they have finally arrived at the zenith.
From this elevated position, all tales are accepted as truth – who would dare question it? The victor is always in the right.
Yet, no one informs us – accompany me and I shall showcase my daily failures, observe as I stumble, fall, endure hardship, feel embarrassment, and become weak. And then, as you look up to me, I will arise – at any cost. Join me in pursuing greatness, I will serve as your exemplar, and you, my support. Together, we shall guide others.
Is it challenging? Undoubtedly. In the realm of personal branding and marketing technology, narrating success stories is considered more fashionable.
However, in the world of formidable women, I was taught to transform risks into opportunities and to depict weaknesses as strengths.
Consequently, after I shared my “100 no” story with the public, eliciting laughter from some, skepticism from others, but fortunately, motivation for many, I was motivated to delve deeper and learn about the “no” tales of other indomitable women who strive for success.
The Story of the First Woman
It is with great pride that New York University boasts a commendable diversity ratio in terms of gender and ethnicity.
The business school attracts a prestigious and diverse group of professionals, who are experienced, highly skilled, and highly successful.
Sharing experiences is a fundamental aspect of university life and is a core value.
Here, we frequently engage in discussions on a variety of topics, primarily focusing on difficulties that transcend trivial matters such as subpar service at a beauty salon, a broken nail, or the intricacies of a newly acquired collection from a brand store. I do not detract from these issues, but our priorities are unfortunately or fortunately centered on business development, career progression, and pursuing interesting and useful projects.
A lack of substance is considered a weakness.
The weak will not persevere…the weak will not withstand the competition…
I asked several women to share their stories about the “no” that altered their lives. I conveyed to them the importance of this for women who equate rejection with failure, lack of talent, or inability.
Through this, we hope to inspire and motivate many aspiring professionals who, out of fear of rejection, hesitate to take a step forward. Who knows, they may even achieve the impossible!
To start, I present to you the story of Caitlin:
Caitlin is my rival – yes, a direct competitor. Caitlin and I applied for the same health project funding at the same time.
It is widely known that I challenge stereotypes. Caitlin is a close friend of mine, and I serve on the advisory board of her project. Caitlin also assists me in securing partners for my project.
I firmly believe that your closest friend is your greatest rival – their actions reflect on you, their advice and criticism is the most valuable, and their opinion the most intriguing.
That is why I invited this exceptional woman to share her story with you.
So, let us begin.
Caitlin West is an entrepreneur and finance expert, who most recently launched her own venture Alivio Technologies Inc, which delivers affordable and effective relief in a non-invasive device called 4Alivio. 4Alivio is a result of her failed attempts at finding affording relief for her own Psoriatic Arthritis. Caitlin is pursuing her executive MBA from NYU Stern, expected to graduate in 2024. She currently works at Qurate Retail as the finance lead for the new business venture yet and has previously worked for: Gap, Charming Charlie, BCBG, and Turn 5. She believes in paying it forward and has been an active in raising awareness for foster youth through CASA, being a hospice aid at UPENN, and a connect leader for the Arthritis Foundation. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her partner, Luis and their two fur babies Charlie & Dexter. She also is an avid horseback rider.
How a “No” Kick Started My Venture, by Caitlin West
A no isn’t final and does not signify failure. One of the most powerful “No’s” I have ever received was when I started my venture. I was applying to an entrepreneurship challenge where I could win up to $100,000 towards my venture. I diligently worked on my application and fine-tuned my pitch. I was able to incorporate my venture, file a provisional patent, submit a research proposal, and apply for the entrepreneurship challenge within a span of 2 months. Now, I have been working on my concept and research for a couple years prior to the November “start date” and this helped me to execute the other deliverables in a timely manner.
As I eagerly waited for the results, I was thinking I was going to at least be considered and make it to the final round. My medical device was innovative and unique to those suffering from chronic pain and inflammation. Well… I was met with a “unfortunately we cannot admit you to the entrepreneurship challenge” response. Guess what, my world did not end with that no – it expanded. I made a conscious decision to keep a positive mindset and to approach any further interaction from a space of curiosity, seeking to understand where I needed to improve.
I asked for feedback from the reviewers of my proposal, and I was amazed. The feedback was very positive and encouraging – the main reason I was not accepted into the challenge was the fact that my venture was too early. The reviewers wanted to see proof of concept in the form of technical designs and a path to developing the first physical product.
Well, I took this feedback and ran with it. I developed a diverse board of advisors with various backgrounds in insurance, medical field, IT, software, and athletics to be able to guide me in building my device. I was able to finance phase II of engineering to be able to establish the technical drawings needed for the proof of concept. Lastly, I have been diligently working on customer discovery interviews to influence the iterations of my device.
I have been able to use the positive feedback, questions, and insights of the reviewers to my venture’s benefit. A lesson learned was the power of the “positive” no. Not all rejections are negative – sometimes a no leads you down another path you could have never dreamed of for yourself, a better path. Trust the process, trust yourself, and trust in the power of a No to set you on the path you are meant to be on.
My second respondent, Dina, is also a proud graduate of New York University. Her story, like that of many immigrant women in America, is a testament to the power of double efforts, unwavering dedication, and indomitable determination in achieving one’s goals.
Dina Goncharova is an operations expert with a passion for healthcare business. Dina graduated NYU Stern School of Business with an MBA.
Dina grows healthcare businesses by building diverse and inclusive teams and creating a purpose-driven company culture. She specializes in operational excellence focusing on improving efficiency, creating value for stakeholders and scaling business for growth. Dina is passionate about the unsolved challenges in the healthcare industry.
Outside of professional life, Dina enjoys hiking and spends most of her free time outside. Mountains are her happy place.
„Ask me just a few years ago and I would not know what to tell you about the power of “no”. What can I say, I just haven’t gotten too many rejections. Not because I’ve always had something to offer or because I am great at everything I’ve desired. The reason I haven’t heard many “NOs” is quite simple – I did not ask for what I want.
I have since strengthened the rejection tolerance muscle. It first started when I was looking for a new job. I found myself endlessly asking people I don’t know for interviews, referrals, career advice and introductions. Many agreed to help, many refused, the outcome was often the same: move on to the next request, next job, next lead.
Looking back, “NOs” had accelerated my growth and taught me how strong, driven and creative I could be. Fast “NO” saves time and energy, gives new direction, and moves me to my goal faster. “NO” is unpleasant, it hurts, it makes me question my competence, it can set me back and demotivate me. But when the goal is clear, “NO” helps to pivot, get creative. “NO”, just like a “yes” gets me to my objective, the only difference is, I have to find a new path to get there.
When “NO” can seriously impact my life I ask myself three questions.
Am I asking the right question?
Some “NOs” had left me with a feeling of an unfinished job. “NO” is a complete sentence, it’s clear, concise and carries enough information to proceed to the next step, unless it was the wrong question to ask. I want to ask my manager for a new title, because it would put me on the career trajectory I envision. “NO” would be discouraging and may affect the way I see myself in the workplace. But what if I stated my “why”: here is the career trajectory I envision within the organization, what should my next steps be to achieve it? Sometimes we think we know the solution we want, but if we are to ask the real “why”, there are alternative ways of getting there. “NO” can help you find these alternative ways.
What’s the cost of not asking?
Asking for what I want puts me in a vulnerable state. It feels like I am giving away control of what happens to me next, and the possibility of a rejection promotes the feelings I’m not quite comfortable with. In the past when I asked for a salary increase, I always got it, not because my performance was outstanding or because my boss was agreeable, but because it was long overdue, I often waited for months before I asked. In this example, avoidance of rejection came at a financial cost. Not asking for what you want always comes at an expense: time, wellbeing, quality of relationships, personal growth, etc. Can you afford to pay the price?
What action is next?
“No” is exhausting. It means you have to keep trying, it consumes a lot of energy. We work very hard to get a “yes” but it is important to have a plan if the answer is “no”. Every important “no” can change our life trajectory. I build a decision tree where one branch is a “yes” and another one is a “no”. Going down the “no” branch helps me understand if I am prepared for the ask. Asking a significant other to take the next step in the relationship and getting a “NO”, can change life’s trajectory. Are you ready for what comes after the “NO”?
Another reason I haven’t been rejected more often in the past is because I am very good at dismissing my own ideas and desires. “I won’t get into this school”, “They will never hire me”, “It’s not a good time to ask for a raise”, “I have to deliver more value before I ask for what I want”, etc. I have learnt to be kinder to myself, I leave the rejecting part to the outside world. “