How I've learned to embrace rejection
I used to think that no one could possibly deal with as much rejection as I do. I’ve been some kind of artist ever since I was five—I’ve been a dancer, a singer/songwriter, an author, a poet, a playwright, a screenwriter, and an actress. When I was in middle school, I auditioned for The Nutcracker three years in a row before I finally made it into the ballet. I’ve been rejected in hundreds of situations: plays and films I wasn’t cast in, bands who didn’t want me as a singer, literary agents who didn’t want to represent my novel, MFA programs I didn’t get into, writing contests I didn’t win. I was just rejected today even. I entered a screenplay proposal into the Twilight Storytellers project, and it was chosen as one of the top 40 finalists, but didn’t make it into the top 20.
I’m not going to lie. Every time I get rejected, it does sting a little. I could enter a playwriting contest I only halfway want to participate in and still feel disappointed when I wasn’t selected. But ultimately, you dust yourself off and get back up. You eat some ice cream, listen to The Smiths, and watch Clueless for the 80th time. You read that one blog post about how many times J.K. Rowling was rejected and you keep going. You keep writing. You keep creating.
When I gave this idea more consideration, though, I realized that artists don’t actually get rejected any more than non-artists. People have to deal with rejection every day: the job you didn’t get, the dude/lady who never called you back after the date, the idea you offered at work that wasn’t used, the bowling game you lost to your best friend, the tweet you sent in to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that never got read on air. Sometimes they are big and sometimes they are tiny, but everyone gets rejected many, many times.
Whenever I experience artistic rejection, I have to remind myself that all art is subjective. Most of the time, artists get rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with the amount of talent they have. The casting director wants a blonde girl for the role, and you happen to be a brunette. The play festival needs a play that’s 15 minutes, and yours is 25. The band wants someone who wants to go on tour, and you don’t like to travel. Or it could just be a matter of opinion. One literary agent doesn’t like your novel at all and another agent thinks it’s the best book she’s read in years. Maybe someone even flat out criticizes you and calls your work super boring. But in that case, you can always take a lesson from the Dude: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
I have learned that most of the non-artistic rejections are not about me either. Maybe I didn’t get the job because they want to promote someone in-house instead of hiring an outsider. Maybe that cute guy didn’t call me back because he’s allergic to cats and he found out I’m a crazy cat lady. Maybe I got the wrong size bowling shoes. And maybe Jimmy Fallon never got to read my brilliant tweet. (You mean he doesn’t read all of them?)
Now, I celebrate my losses and rejections as much as I celebrate my wins. I know that the more rejections I get, the more I am putting myself out there, the more I am trying. And as much as I have gotten rejected, I have accomplished quite a lot as an artist. I know that every time I get rejected, there is something valuable to learn. My most recent rejection reminded me that it’s been a while since I have “lost,” which means I haven’t been playing enough. This has inspired me to write more short plays and screenplays to submit to other projects. Sometimes something seems like a loss, but there is a different and better opportunity around the corner. Have you ever been disappointed not to land that job you wanted only to be offered a better-paying job that’s closer to where you live with people you are more compatible with the following week? I bet when you look back, you are incredibly grateful for the first rejection.
So whether you’re a writer dealing with a rejection letter, a single lady who didn’t get a second date with the cute bartender, an unemployed college graduate who aced the interview but didn’t get the job, or a member of the losing team in the soccer game, learn to love your losses as much as your wins. They will help you just as much, and sometimes even more.
Sara Crawford is a writer and musician from Atlanta, Georgia. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans. Her upcoming debut young adult novel is called “The Muses.” Her two best friends are her cats, Frank and Julian, and she has a big tattoo of Morrissey on her leg, which frequently gets mistaken for Elvis. You can follow her on Twitter at @sara_crawford.