Rolling With the Punches: How to Deal with Rejection
I’ve never been less inclined to share my credentials, given the subject of this article, but I do believe it to be necessary at the outset, so here we go.
I am an actor who’s been pressing at the walls of the entertainment industry, trying to find a door, a window, a crack–anything–for almost twenty years. I am a writer who started writing her first novel in 2009 and finished it twelve years later, but hasn’t been able to convince anyone to publish it yet. And I’m autistic, but only figured that out last year, thirty-four years into living with autism. I face rejection every day, often multiple times a day, and I still haven’t lost hope. I’m sure many people would call that stubbornness–a refusal to admit defeat–not optimism. Others may incorrectly conflate it with toxic positivity, something that makes my stomach churn and I try to avoid at all costs. But in reality, it is none of those things. It is the sum of all of my experiences, all of my failures, and the gnawing recognition that the only way to truly fail is to give up.
I grew up in the Brethren church and was taught to hold tight to the belief in objective truth. Step one in dealing with rejection? Let go, and accept that subjectivity is king. I read an anecdote the other day that said something to the effect of, “If ninety-nine percent of people think you’re unattractive, that still leaves seventy-nine million people who disagree.” If your manuscript, screenplay, poem, artwork isn’t someone’s cup of tea, that doesn’t make it worthless, it just hasn’t found its audience yet.
Speaking of worth, tying your worth to your creativity, your productivity, your ideas, or your output will only lead to pain. Never forget that you matter and have worth, regardless of your successes and failures.
Step two: fail up. The old adage, ‘learn from your mistakes,’ is popular for a reason. Treat every failure as a learning opportunity–but not right away. You’re allowed to sit in disappointment. Rejection will find a way to seep under your skin, no matter how much you try to prepare for it, no matter how strong your armor may be. Just don’t let that disappointment morph into hopelessness.
As an actor, I pour my heart into every audition. I recently ran the numbers and I book around five percent of the auditions I tape. Technically speaking, this makes ninety-five percent of my auditions failures. But I’ve stopped viewing them that way. And it’s made all the difference. Every ‘failed’ audition is still an opportunity to do what I love: act. Every ‘failed’ audition is a mini character study, a chance to improve my memorization technique, and an exploration of what I’m capable of as an actor. What can you learn from your failures? What opportunities did they afford you, though you may have missed the one you’d hoped to achieve?
The final step I can offer to help lessen the blows of rejection is this: remember that rejection is not the dead end it feels like; it is simply a speed bump along the way. The road is still open before you. Do not let the rejections convince you otherwise. You’ve gotten this far, you’ve accomplished so much–don’t give up now. As long as you’re still going, there’s still hope.
I wish I could tell you that you won’t experience gatekeeping, slammed doors, and close calls so painful you’d almost prefer the heartache of abandoned dreams. But you will. And while those are more than speed bumps–they’re road blocks, intentional or otherwise–you are still the only person who can definitively stop your progress. You will always hold that power. And as long as you remember that, remember that only you can decide to keep fighting or throw in the towel, then everything else will eventually subside, the road will remain open, and the rejections won’t win–you will.