Shreyas Kulkarni

“Today’s young generation need a mentoring hand on how to handle rejection, failure, and challenges”: Ambi Parameswaran on his new book

Called ‘Spring - Bouncing Back From Rejection’, we speak to Ambi about his 10th book.

Imagine being asked a question that not only leaves you momentarily stumped but makes you ponder so much that you end up writing a book on it.

Ambi Parameswaran
Ambi Parameswaran

It’s exactly what happened to M G Parameswaran or Ambi during his talk at Jagran Lake University in Bhopal where a girl asked him about facing rejection.

Ambi, whose 35+ years of experience at marketing, sales and advertising includes over 25 years at Ulka Advertising and writing and training corporate head honchos right now, went on to write a book on rejection called ‘Spring - Bouncing Back From Rejection’, his 10th overall. We (afaqs!) spoke to him about his new book.

Edited Excerpts:

Tell us about the book and how it came to life

Around four or five years ago, I wrote a book called ‘Sponge: Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Clients’. It was kind of away from my core area of competency: marketing, branding, and advertising. The book was received quite well. But, there was a nagging doubt in my mind whether young people’s (22-35 years old) questions were addressed in that book.

When I did that talk at Jagran Lake University, my answer to that question from a girl on how did you face rejection got a standing ovation. I realised that today’s young generation need some kind of a mentoring hand on how to handle rejection, failure, and challenges. If the girl had not asked me that question, I might not have written this book.

I started thinking about it and my literary agent Ashok Chandy said, “How interesting, why don’t you start writing?” I wrote three chapters and shared it with him. He pitched it to Westland Publishers and it said, “Yes, we’ll do it.”

There’s a great balance of big and regular and unknown names and their stories of dealing with rejection, tell us about that

There is enough written about big people and it’s always inspiring to read about Dr Kalam or an author like Amish Tripathi… My previous book was about my stories and in this book, out of the 20 stories, only five or six are from my life. The remaining balance is from the lives of others. That was the idea - If you are to be successful in some form, you have to learn to accept rejection, process it, and learn from it.

Do you think people’s ability to deal with rejection grows weaker as they grow older?

I feel someone who’s been able to accept rejection when he is young is also able to accept rejection when he is old. But, as you grow old, to accept rejection becomes harder. Some of the smartest people realise this which is why they surround themselves with people who can give them honest feedback.

If I am the CEO of a company, when I go and make a presentation to my employees, I’ve to sound convincing. If someone questions me, I must be able to answer them. You must have a mentor who will tell you when you’re going wrong.

Taking Nokia as an example, is reinvention the necessary skill you, an individual or a brand, should possess to avoid rejection in the long-run?

Nokia was a smart company. It went from manufacturing paper pulp to becoming a world leader… They showed a great level of invention at one stage and then it got caught in the hubris of its success. If someone gives me feedback saying you were abrasive in your meeting with the client, if I don’t take that, it’s going to come back and bite me one day or the other.

We live in uncertain times where rejection is seen in many forms: layoffs, failed interviews, postponed promotions, delayed appraisals… The timing of the book is striking, was it deliberate?

Not really. The idea for the book germinated somewhere around August 2018 when the Jagran Lake University session happened. I shared a similar story of my rejection at the IIM Calcutta Distinguished Alumnus Award, it too received a standing ovation. I realised young people appreciate it if someone whom they think is successful stands up and says that I was rejected but I still came out okay.

The idea was the book will be published and available for sale from May 2020. The book was ready in December and it would have launched in May but COVID and lockdown happened and in a sense, the book is even more relevant today. It was not planned. The book was written well before the lockdown.

Have you observed any changes in the nature of rejection before the lockdown and after the lockdown?

I have a different point of view. The millennial generation in India has been used to a pretty comfortable lifestyle especially the upper-income groups living in the big cities.

The COVID has come as a pretty rude wake-up call… Just as for a different era when the oil shock happened and inflation shot up to 25% and caused the angry young man brigade, this has acted as a wake-up call for millennials as to what is their priorities in life. Younger people will become more conscious about their health and savings, they will create more assets and whether they like it not, they have to be prepared to get rejected.

A particular chapter talks about not taking rejection personally but can a young reader take it as to not put in their 110% in the task?

I have quoted from The Bhagavad Gita: You have to do your best, you have to put 110% in the job you are doing. But, remember if you get rejected, it could be something which has nothing to do with you. It’s about not giving up and not taking it personally.