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Should You Ever Take ‘No’ for an Answer? (Sometimes. Here’s When and Why.)

We all know that in everyday life there are times when you need to take “no” for an answer. Learning how to respect boundaries and walk away is crucial for being a decent human being in this world.   

Young entrepreneurs, though, are constantly told that they should be persistent and driven to be successful. Even we recognize that determination is an important quality for entrepreneurship. However, there’s an enormous difference between overcoming failure and stubbornly refusing to accept when something just isn’t going to happen. The former is a learning opportunity; the latter is futile and a waste of your precious energy.  

There’s a certain art to knowing when to walk away from what seems, to you, like an obvious next step. Think of it as the difference between a gentle push and a hard shove. Pushing through challenges and obstacles is good for you and your business. Trying to shove your ideas forward despite the reality of a situation might actually be harmful to everyone involved.  


Ask yourself if there’s a legitimate reason why you need to get your way. If you’re trying to solve a problem, then you need to solve it – you can’t simply quit and walk away. However, if that reason doesn’t exist anymore (or if it was never real to begin with), then you may need to stop and turn around.  

As an example, let’s take your initial idea for your startup business. Is your idea one that is born out of a desire to make people’s lives happier or better? Are you solving a common problem in a new and better way? If so, then you should probably push on until your dream becomes a reality. However, are you simply reinventing the wheel? Creating a product that no one needs or wants? Does everyone around you seem very “meh” about your idea? Then perhaps it’s time to back off and try something else.  


We know that young entrepreneurs are high-achieving, college-bound high schoolers who are used to receiving lots of external validation for their efforts. You might be a straight-A student or the top athlete on your team. Your bedroom is full of trophies and awards. Your college application looks like an example used by high school guidance counselors to inspire others. In other words, you’re not used to not succeeding at something.   

Pushing your ideas solely because you can’t stand to hear the word “no” is not a reason to keep going. Just because someone rejected your idea or won’t help fund your startup doesn’t mean you’ve completely failed. External validation in business is not guaranteed to anyone. This is a good opportunity for you to focus on believing in yourself.  


Who knows why you’ve been told “no.” There could be any number of reasons that have nothing to do with you as a wonderful human being. Growing a thick skin in business is an important skill. It means you don’t fall apart every time someone rejects your ideas. Perseverance doesn’t always look like pushing your ideas. Sometimes it looks like learning how to keep your head high despite feeling rejected.  


Have you really been rejected, or does it only feel that way? For someone who is used to getting all As at school, getting one B might feel like a failure. But is it really? In school, only an F or a 0 is a true failure.  

Take a look at where you’ve been told “no.” Is your entire business model being rejected, or just one part of it? Let’s say a potential investor has declined to give you the funding you asked for. Are they offering you something else? Have they given you advice on how to restructure your business plan? If so, then that’s not a rejection as much as it is guidance on how to do better.  


That sounds like a contradiction in terms, but we promise it makes sense. Consider:  

One sleepless night doesn’t mean you have insomnia.  

Losing one game doesn’t mean you’re bad at playing.  

Forgetting to text back one time doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend.  

See where we’re going with this? Knowing when to quit something, and then quitting it, doesn’t mean that this is your entire personality. A thoughtful retreat is not the same as defeat. This doesn’t have to define you as a person. Think of it as holding yourself to a certain set of standards. When those standards aren’t met, you are smart enough to move on.  


No successful entrepreneur got where they are by wallowing in self-pity. Sure, rejection can hurt, but it’s not the end of the world. And it’s certainly not the end of your entrepreneurial journey!   

When someone tells you “no,” they don’t like your idea, or your product isn’t selling, look at it as an opportunity to learn something new. What is it you’re missing? What puzzle piece doesn’t quite fit? How can you improve your situation?  

Remember, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It’s not the same thing as letting your will dominate your circumstances. It’s better to be flexible than so rigid that you break at the slightest challenge.  

Ultimately, learning when to quit, walk away, or take “no” for an answer is something that comes with experience. No one ever said that the path of entrepreneurship would be easy or straightforward! The key to a successful entrepreneurial journey is flexibility, resilience, and knowing the difference between a minor setback and a major detour. In fact, the path you started on might not be the best way to reach your destination. There’s no shame in turning around and starting over.  

The best advice for learning how and when to take “no” for an answer comes down to believing in yourself. You knew that becoming a young entrepreneur wouldn’t be easy but knowing who you are and having that confidence to make a difference will take you far in life.   

Young entrepreneurs who attend high school in Florida may be eligible for a Kantner Foundation college scholarship. Click here to learn about what we offer and how to apply.  

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