Rejected by TED… No Problem! “No” Means “Not Yet”

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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February was a month of wins – and losses.  Everyone talks about their wins, so I’m going to move right past those, and get to the topic that that leaders rarely glorify: the losses.

I was rejected in February by TED. TED stands for Technology, Engineering and Design. There are TED events all over the world that feature speakers that have ideas worth spreading. The TED website ( is my all-time favorite site because it opens our minds to so many ways of thinking about things we’ve never even thought about! It spotlights our greatest potential in any topic you can imagine. 

I was asked to audition for an upcoming local TED event. I was so excited. Speaking on a TED stage is definitely on my bucket list because my greatest satisfaction comes from helping others move past their obstacles to reach their potential. My ability to authentically connect with those seeking this help has enabled me to assist thousands. 

The intention of the event is 1) to educate, inspire and connect the audience with a wide open perception of what is possible 2) to change lives through connection with ideas, peers and self.  

Here is what the event’s creative brief said:

“Entrepreneurs have a unique form of self-expression, their companies.  This event believes that the way that companies unleash their potential is through learning and acting based upon the learning and by allowing their people to express their purpose in ways that benefit customers, the community and the company. How people and organizations learn, what people and organizations are capable of, how people overcome obstacles to achieving their potential and what causes people and organizations to choose to learn or not is at the heart of this event.”

What resonated with me was the emphasis on how people overcome obstacles to achieving their potential. My 18 years of experience has taught me that there are five things that help people overcome obstacles to achieving potential:

1: Resilience. Grit. The ability to get knocked down 7 times but to get back up 8. Setbacks become failures only when we quit. 

2; Adaptability. Flexibility. The ability to pivot. Relevance. if we are not relevant to what the market needs or wants, it doesn’t matter how great our company, product, or service is. 

3: A community of experts. We never know all that we need to know. Tapping into experts around us is essential to our growth and learning. 

4: The ability to ignore the naysayers, nonbelievers, and the people that say no. 

5: A sense of unshakable faith, and trust in the process. Belief that all that happens will lead to a lesson you need to learn. Belief that a closed door is also a gateway to another open door. 

Given that speakers each get 10 minutes, I couldn’t focus on all 5 strategies, so I picked the one that I thought would be the most thought-provoking:  #5.  I presented a talk on how spirituality shows up in leadership. I hired a coach, practiced like crazy, watched every single video that the committee recommended (over and over again to study the presenters), and was probably a little over-prepared. I poured my heart, soul, and spirit into my preparation. 

The audition committee was clearly divided over my performance. Their comments were completely contradictory from one another. While I was praised for being “completely in my talk” (a key evaluation criteria), the primary curator told me that I gave the wrong talk. That was the first nail in the coffin. 

I left feeling confused, but still cautiously optimistic. Applying my own philosophies, I concluded that whatever outcome occurs, it would be right one. Either way, I was closer to fulfilling my dream of being on a TED stage. I felt truly grateful for the opportunity and I knew I had made quantum leaps in my presentation capabilities just by going through the coaching process. I also knew that in the scheme of things, no matter how badly I wanted this, I knew it would neither make me or break me.

When we are able to remove our ego from the outcome, we can see that no decisions reflect our worth or ability. 

A few days later, I received this email:
“Hi Marissa,

 It was really nice seeing you Thursday and hearing your talk.   You did a nice job of becoming one with your message. We heard some great talks this last week and we had to make some difficult decisions.  We’ve determined that there are other talks that better fit the goals of the conference. Thank you auditioning and I hope it was a good experience for you.  It is very important to us that everyone touched by the conference is benefited in some way by it.” 

When I received the email, naturally my first thought was disappointment. But then I thought, “Wow what a gift this is. I can now show my kids and all of the emerging entrepreneurs that I mentor that one person’s ‘no’ is not significant.”

I wrote this message back (in two separate emails) with the subject line being “Thank you… A great lesson and I will write about it in my next Successful Culture column”

“Oh well! I gave it my best and learned a lot in the process. Frees me to focus on other things for now… Will continue to move ahead on this goal though. There are hundreds of other TED events I can try for… Many other paths for me to go down. “No” from one person is not significant. To me, it only means, ‘Not yet.’ Onward and upward!”

 Then I wrote this one:

“Thanks again for your email. I am grateful for the opportunity and it has been a learning experience. As parents, we are constantly being watched. My 15 year old son, who is also chasing many dreams, knows how much this meant to me.

 You have now given me a wonderful opportunity to show him that one person’s conclusion should not be a deterrent when chasing a dream. “No” from one person actually means “not yet” and clears the way for the “yes” from the right person. 

Isn’t that the true entrepreneurial spirit? It isn’t about sales strategy, or marketing, or content… It’s about the unbridled enthusiasm in the entrepreneur’s heart and soul that doesn’t allow a “no” to stop them. 

I  going to write a column on this. What emerging and young entrepreneurs really need to hear from successful entrepreneurs is true stories of recovering – and growing – from setbacks – and to know that a closed door is always a gateway to a different open one.   I will tell everyone I was not selected to give my entrepreneurial message – but that this is still a blessing for many reasons and in no way deters me from pursuing my dream of touching others through TED.

Thanks again – good luck!”

Am I disappointed? Sure I am, but many gifts emerged from this experience. My family knew how much I wanted this. They were also emotionally invested. When I told my kids that I was not selected, I knew they were watching my reaction. Would I practice what I preach about resilience? Would I not allow one person’s opinion to get in the way of my dream? Would I choose to be the victor and not the victim? These are all of the lessons I impart to my kids on a daily basis. My ability to walk the walk for them validated everything I’ve said. 

Plus, now I am so much better prepared for the next TED opportunity. This stage just wasn’t meant to be my stage. And, as fate would have it, a few other opportunities emerged shortly after I received my rejection that would have been way too much to balance if I had to focus on my TED prep. 

An Idea Worth Spreading

The ability to remove the ego from a rejection, and to hear “Next,” “Not Yet” or “Yes” when someone else says “No” – that is the heart of entrepreneurship. The knowledge that one person’s opinion or conclusion is insignificant in the scheme of our life – that is the heart of entrepreneurship. If we can perceive an undesirable outcome as simply a single moment in time that leads us to learning and to other opportunities, and know that in the totality of our life, it is a merely a blip on the screen – well that is the heart of entrepreneurship. And I believe that in true TED form, this is an idea worth spreading. 

Onward and upward!!

PS: For an extra shot of motivation, check out the best 60 seconds of motivation ever here:


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