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Soledad O’Brien: How to choose resilience over rejection

Dhara Singh
Reporter

Soldedad O’Brien is no stranger to rejection.

The CNN media veteran and founder of Starfish Media Group has been belittled, pushed down, and laid off. But those experiences, no matter how negative, made her stronger and helped pave her way to success.

“All of us have bad feelings that we have to move past,” said Soldedad O’Brien, CNN media veteran and founder of Starfish Media Group. “I think it’s important to remember when it comes to resilience and rejection, it’s really about not about what happened, but how you respond to what happened.”

O’Brien spoke during the BUILT BY GIRLS Summit 2020: Get Ready for the Comeback and gave her advice on how to reframe adverse circumstances.

‘Everybody hates you’

O’Brien recalled a moment when she was working with a technology show and a senior executive told her: “You know, everybody hates you.”

She burst into tears.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien attends the 7th annual Women of Worth Awards at Hearst Tower on December 6, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)
CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien attends the 7th annual Women of Worth Awards at Hearst Tower on December 6, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)

“The worst part of it all was that someone was able to knock me off my game and I sobbed for probably 20 minutes,” O’Brien said. “But whether or not it’s true is irrelevant, people don't get to hijack the conversation you’re there to have.”

From that point on, O’Brien learned a valuable lesson in leadership and maintaining composure and direction in a conversation.

“What I got out of it was this idea of bringing everything back to your control,” O’Brien said. “And so in a way, I was glad that I had that experience because after that, I knew how to manage meetings with people.”

Don’t personalize rejection

When O’Brien was laid off as the host of CNN’s Starting Point, she had an opportunity to put her learnings to the test. When her boss announced that they were taking her off the show, instead of letting out tears, she proposed they both get lunch.

“And I would go on to run CNN’s documentary unit, which ended up being very helpful for me in my career,” O’Brien said. “I actually left CNN to start a business that was around creating content.”

Although O’Brien said you shouldn’t stop yourself from feeling, she said learning not to personalize rejection has helped her keep a cool head and reframe it as an opportunity.

She compared the experience to packing your school bag the night before. On an intuitive hunch, she discussed her next plans with her husband if she was let go of her CNN position.

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: CNN's Soledad O'Brien covers Whitney Houston's funeral on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Michael Roman/FilmMagic)
CNN's Soledad O'Brien covers Whitney Houston's funeral on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Michael Roman/FilmMagic)

“I just have figured out how to work around my weaknesses,” O’Brien said. “I make sure I don’t overreact because I know that if someone surprises me, it knocks me off.”

Building resilience through an abundance mindset

O’Brien also tells others to consider rejections as opportunities for further exploration.

“It’s not like there’s only three jobs in the whole world,” said O’Brien. “There’s lots of different people and different ideas you can turn into opportunities.”

If you’re struggling to depart from a scarcity mindset, try to slow down and not multitask.

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 28: (L-R) CNN Anchorwoman Soledad O'Brien and Marjorie Harvey attend The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation’s 2nd annual Girls Who Rule The World Mentoring Weekend - Day 1 at Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort on October 28, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation)
CNN Anchorwoman Soledad O'Brien and Marjorie Harvey attend The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation’s 2nd annual Girls Who Rule The World Mentoring Weekend - Day 1 at Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort on October 28, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation)

“I know I’m more resilient when I’m not trying to get six things done at once,” O’Brien said. “If I have a kid on the phone over here and I’m running to this shoot, I actually tell the person I’m talking to let’s stop this for a minute and try this again tomorrow.”

Another resilience tactic is learning when to say no.

There were times when O’Brien was helping her children with their math homework, but was also asked to support events. She realized it was impossible to do both.

“I couldn’t do the events, but maybe I could say let me support you on social media,” O’Brien said. “Send me some links and I’d love to tweet about your event.”

The more you can control your environment, she said, the better you can handle rejection and become the master of your own fate.

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But if rejection still haunts you, O’Brien says don’t beat yourself up and instead make a pros and cons list.

“I’m a big list maker and so I’m always writing lists around pros and cons,” she said. “And what’s the next step? And here are the skills that I have.”

Dhara is a reporter Yahoo Money and Cashay. Follow her on Twitter at @Dsinghx.

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