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Rebuilding After Rejection

by Timothy Tiernan on January 7, 2013
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lightbulb on green symbolizing rebounding with good ideasWhat does the fourth most prolific inventor in history have to do with grant writers? Resilience.

In the winter of 1914, 13 of Thomas Edison’s lab buildings burned down in West Orange, New Jersey. The inventor famously affirmed, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow…. I will go right to work to reconstruct the plant.” He added, “There’s only one thing to do, and that is to jump right in and rebuild.”

That’s despite $7 million in damages, with just $2 million covered by general insurance. Thirty-five hundred employees would pick up debris the following day, Edison declared.

I first read this anecdote in a formative self-help book several years ago about how to train your mind to focus on your successes rather than your defeats (success is a habit just like failure—that’s the pithy summary). It’s the mindset of the gambler but set to a more “virtuous purpose”: Focus on your successes; a “defeat” is room to recalibrate to get to your next success. This behaviorism could be applied to almost any person, career, or sport. In the case of grant writing, it’s highly useful (in the case of Texas hold ‘em, not so much).

Of course, no grant rejection comes close to Edison’s catastrophe. But the hyperbole is my point: If Edison can have such attitude when confronted with massive loss, then you can too when facing, say, a multi-million-dollar grant miss. His attitude, jump right in and rebuild, is worth burning into your memory.

That’s also the attitude I’ve gleaned from numerous grant writers. About a month ago, I posed this question to a LinkedIn group: What do you do the day after a grant rejection? Over 20 grant writers have thoughtfully chimed in with their experiences. Many posts noted the importance of delineating between federal and foundation programs and the different post-rejection approaches. A number of grant writers pointed out the capricious nature of grant making. Others advised to persist with resubmissions, because statistically speaking, persistence pays off. Nearly all reflected that rebuild attitude.

It’s the entrepreneurial nature of grantsmanship that made me think of Edison’s statement in the first place. Here is just a fraction of the great input on that thread:

Lynn Miner gave sage advice: “First, 'no' doesn't mean 'never'; it just means 'not right now.' Get feedback, revise, and resubmit, and your odds will improve.”

Leslie Testa had the Edison spirit: “I try to focus on the grants we have won and then pick myself up and get back on my horse.”

David Steven Rappoport, who has experience as both a grant reviewer and grant writer, stated that he only worries about grant rejections involving a significant amount of money. He then determines if there were rational reasons for the rejection (sometimes there aren’t).

A handful of respondents added this key bit of wisdom: Eat chocolate.

So, grab another cup of coffee, after the Ghirardelli bar. And if you need any assistance, I recommend our grant writing and review services.

In the meantime, get back on the horse. Rebuild. Rewrite. And write away!


Tips for Strategic Grant Seeking in 2013

Topics: Grant Articles & News