Do you remember the first time you heard the word “no?” I doubt it. I certainly don’t. It’s a word we here often, daily perhaps, even more. Especially as children, we learn the word “no” almost immediately. “No” is a word we will hear for the rest of our lives. But very rarely is “no” truly finite.

I’m reminded of this word, this strong and intimidating word, by watching American Idol tonight. I know, cheesy, but as an entrepreneur often does, I tend to put lots of everyday observations into the context of entrepreneurship so bear with me. One of the contestants on tonight’s episode was pleading and begging with the judges (Simon, Randy, Kara, and guest judge Ellen Degeneres). The judges were resolute in their decision, there was no chance in hell she was going to beg a “yes” from them, yet she continued until it got a bit pathetic. Ellen was quite clear and concise in the way she explained to the contestant that this “no” was not the end of her life, nor was it the last “no” she’ll ever hear, rather this moment is something that she’ll look back on as just another “no” that made her stronger. That kind of wisdom, that Ellen applied, is only gained after overcoming the word “no” and having something to really show for it. Most successful people, no matter what kind of success they’ve had – be it artistic success, professional success, financial success, success through freedom – have overcome this word and made it an opportunity, not an obstacle.

I’m reminded of how many times I heard the word “no” as a teenager when asking a girl out (I did hear “yes” from time to time!). I’m reminded of how many times I heard the word “no” when I didn’t make the team, when job hunting, when selling something, or when pitching venture capitalists.

The word “no” is rarely the end of the road, more often it’s an opportunity. Hearing the word “no” automatically prompts a follow-up question that you can hear from children more often than adults, and it’s “but why not?” or “how come?” That question, that follow-up to the “no”, is the opportunity to learn more, to understand why you aren’t getting what you want.

That’s what “no” is – an opportunity to learn, to improve, to achieve wisdom. Next time you may still get a “no” but perhaps a little later in the conversation.

Being able to overcome the word “no” is a defining characteristic for optimists or idealists. On the flip-side, not being able to overcome this word is a often a defining characteristic of the unambitious, or of pessimists.

Being able to deal with this word is also a defining characteristic for entrepreneurs. I’ve heard this word the first time I hit the streets to sell a CitySquares product, and I learned from it. I bettered the product, or the pitch, and heard it again, and again, until finally I heard Yes once, then twice, then again. I heard the word “no” when raising money for CitySquares, when we weren’t ready. I heard it when I thought we were ready and thought the prospective investors were crazy or foolish. I heard it when I tried to close our first really big sale, or when I tried to establish a big partnership. Yet never has “no” been finite for me.

The word “yes” is an exciting word, it means you got something right, or got what you wanted but the word “no” can oftentimes be more valuable.