Surviving Rejection In Creative Careers

“Rejection just motivates me to keep trying and to try and get better.” Sasha Grey. If it were only that simple. The truth is, rejection can really crush your soul.

And it hurts more if you’ve invested months and years in a project and then it gets rejected over and over again. Add to that the struggle to pay rent, to keep a relationship together while you pour your soul into your work. So how can we cope?   I’ve listed some of the best tips I’ve found to help you cope with the rejection most creative professionals face on a regular basis.

As a licensed professional therapist and a veteran TV/Film writer/producer, I treat creative professionals in Los Angeles. If you are in a slump, and the rejections are piling up, please call me for a free therapy session at 310-850-4707.

1. Go ahead and take rejection personally – up to a point — then move on.

There’s no way you can’t take a rejection personally, so you might as well admit it. It hurts. If you’re a writer or an artist, it’s your novel or screenplay or portfolio –and you may have slaved over it for months or even years.  If you’re a performer, it’s even more personal –it’s you.

“Sit with your emotions,” as they say in psychology, or “process the rejection.” This just means, don’t fight it, or deny it, let it sink in, feel it authentically, and move past it.

You can’t let it crush your soul, or your next project will suffer. And maybe the next. So you have to be resilient. That’s the professional part. As a professional, you’ve got to think of rejection as “part of the process.”

2. Remember, everybody, even the best writers, artists and performers get rejected.

This goes back to what Einstein said about making mistakes. “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying.”

This is especially true in a creative field where risk is often the key to success. You have to push the envelope or you’re not going to be relevant as an artist.

Risk naturally leads to mistakes. But it also leads to originality. Think of rejection as part of the process of growth, and of creating your own original voice.

3. Keep rejection in perspective with everything else in life.

This rejection didn’t happen in a vacuum. You’ve lived a long life, and you didn’t always get your way. You lost football games. Some other girl stole your date. You didn’t get accepted at USC Cinema. You survived.

Your new creative career just happens to be what you’re most passionate about doing right now. So it stings a bit more. Remind yourself of all the rejections you survived.

4. Attempt to keep your expectations in check.

Every year hundreds of  thousands of scripts, novels, portfolios and auditions  take place — and who gets hired?  A very small percentage.  Keep the odds in mind.

Another way to keep expectations in check is to have your projects evaluated by a professional , before submitting it to the powers-that-be only to have it rejected. Get feedback and improve your project.

You learn to get better by getting feedback from your mentors, or your colleagues.  You can’t dismiss constructive criticism.  That’s how everybody learns to get better.  Don’t be afraid of being judged, it comes with the territory.

5. Visualize your ongoing success in your chosen creative field.

I think this is important for your career in general. Visualize yourself writing, performing, creating many great projects over the long term.  Include in your vision, the image of working steadily, over months and years with many successes and occasional rejections.

One by-product of visualizing your success is a relaxed sense of professionalism. When you expect to succeed, it helps build confidence. Confidence enables you to take more risks, which can lead to more original works over time.

6. Look for potential lessons in the rejection.

Often, the criticism you receive can be enlightening. If it’s worthwhile criticism, you will need to pay attention to it. For example, if the a studio or publisher says “your characters feet a bit two dimensional,” you may need to do a rewrite.

If the audition doesn’t go well, consider why it didn’t.  Only listen to professionals, though.  Ask your acting teacher, or actors with more experience — and be open to hear their thoughts.  How else are you going to get better?

7. Rejection can remind you to maintain an overall attitude of growth.

Remember; think of yourself as a growing artist. You’re getting better the more you work,  which is absolutely true. Practice is the only way creative artists improve. think of your quest as a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t think of your next project as though it’s “the one” that’s going to win awards and make you rich. It’s another effort in your increasing body of work. You’re committed to a lifetime of writing –you will succeed many times in your career, but there will be disappointments, too.

Think about the long view. This way, no matter if if your efforts are rewarded or rejected, that work is part of your personal and artistic growth.

8. Handling rejection well will keep you from burnout.

Creative professionals can become so jaded, and frankly, afraid of the odds, that they stop trying. They think, the chances of me succeeding are so low, why bother?  Learn to take care of yourself.  You are in this for the long haul.

I advise writers, artists and performers to work on a web series, a play, indie films, shorts, graphic novels, and plays. You’re odds of being produced are much higher. You need to see your work produced.  Creativity requires confidence, create small masterpieces, then move on.

9. Remember, everyone has a fear of being judged. It’s human nature.

It’s not just you. Every creative artist who ever lived has dealt with rejection. However sometimes it feels like you’re alone. If you get a string of rejections and it just has worn you down to the point where you’re just no longer excited about your work, I suggest therapy.

It’s always a minor miracle for a film to get produced, a novel to get published, an actor to get a big part. . There are so many ways the deal can fall through –ways you can feel like you’ve failed. Even if you have initial success, it’s always a long road, so be prepared.

That’s why I encourage creative individuals to count their victories. If your performance in a one act play gets a great review, if you script places highly in a contest, if your novel gets you an agent, those are all successes. Savor the victories, even the small ones. Focus on them, not the failures –and keep working toward your goals.

For a free psychotherapy session with  Stanford Psychotherapist, David Silverman, please call 310-850-4707.

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Image credit: Creative Commons, Rejected, 2012 by Asim Saed, is licensed under CC By 2.0