FailureExcerpt from 20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith


Rejection is a part of life that we have been trained to find unpleasant. But what if every rejection only meant you were one step closer to a yes? What if you considered rejection to be a crucial part of your search instead of an obstacle? What if it were merely a chapter in the much larger story of your purpose?

That’s the mind-set I had when I sold books door-to-door for Southwestern back in college. If there’s one profession where you’ll learn a lot about rejection, it’s door-to-door sales.

Here’s the part that made dealing with rejection easy: my goal was not to sell a single book. I didn’t care about the sale. All I cared about was doing thirty presentations every single day. Even if I got thirty nos, I still would have accomplished my goal.

But the interesting thing is, I never got thirty nos in a row. If I did my presentation so many times in one day, there was at least one person (sometimes more) who would inevitably give me a yes.

Years later, I applied this same principle when I was trying to get bookings for Andy Andrews, the comedian I was representing. My goal was to get him into the college market, so every day I would sit down with a telephone (this was decades before the Internet) and cold call at least thirty colleges.

I would actually ask, “You wouldn’t be interested in booking a comedian, would you?”

Remember, I was looking for thirty colleges a day that did not want a comedian. Obviously, the yes would change the outcome of the game, but, in my mind, I was always hunting for nos. That is where the production came from. Ultimately, I would always find my one yes after wading through a sea of nos. Never once did I ever succeed in getting thirty nos in a row.

It wasn’t long before he was the most booked comedian in the college market, and voted Comedian of the Year for two years in a row by the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). It became a platform that pushed him into the national spotlight.

So nos do not intimidate me. I eat nos for breakfast.

So often, I have friends come up to me and lament about their inability to accomplish some kind of goal, like publishing a book. When I ask them how many times they’ve been turned down, they usually respond with nothing greater than three or four. They take those three or four rejections as evidence that they should give up. That’s when I give them the good news: they’re just getting started!

That same comedian I was booking all those years ago eventually wrote a book. It was called The Traveler’s Gift. As his manager and someone who greatly believed in the book, I was responsible for finding a publisher. You know how many publishers completely rejected it? Fifty-one. That’s right, fifty-one publishers told me that what he had written was not worth put- ting on paper.

But you know what happened after we finally found our yes?

The book got published, became a featured selection on Good Morning America and a New York Times bestseller, was translated into over twenty-five languages, and launched Andy Andrews’ writing career. He has since authored many more books, including multiple New York Times bestsellers.

What would have happened if Andy and I had given up after three or four nos?

What have you given up on? What do you want so badly that you would pitch it to thirty people who will tell you no? What are you eating for breakfast? Go get yourself a big bowl of nos! You will be shocked at how big and strong you will grow.

Robert D. Smith is a brand architect, consultant, and author of 20,000 Days and Counting. He also blogs on entrepreneurship, personal growth, and more at

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