Let's Talk About Rejection!

March 12, 2013

Post-rejection cheer.
Hi. If you are an art-maker or creative entrepreneur you know by now that you're in for a boatload of risk-taking. Fun! Risks! Except that if you are a control freak like me, risks give you a constant feeling of dread at the pit of your stomach. And, maybe a little feeling of annoyance that you're constantly drawn to taking them. My mentor, choreographer Deborah Jinza Thayer, used to say that every time you show art, it's the equivalent of asking a bunch of strangers to judge your child. Your child, that you dearly love, that is now standing nakedly on an open stage for others to objectively scrutinize...

It's. So. Vulnerable.

And, putting your work on a stage is no different than any other kind of creative vulnerability. Like, the vulnerability it takes to fully go after an opportunity, only to find out that you didn't get it.

I could have an emotional suit of armor an inch thick and still be deflated in that moment when I hear 'no'. 

No, you didn't get the grant.
No, you didn't get cast in the role.
No, you aren't the right candidate for this job.
No, the potential client doesn't think you're the right fit.
No, the opportunity isn't going to come to fruition right now.

But, I don't actually want an emotional suit of armor, because I know that vulnerability is actually really important. I know this thanks to reading lots of  BrenĂ© BrownShe is totally the shit. And, she reminded me that most great things in life come from Daring Greatly: being brave (and vulnerable!) enough to go after the role, the job, the opportunity, the business-- time and time again, even when you keep falling short. That is some amazing stuff! It's the place from which real personal growth takes place, and the place from which people all over the world have dug in and created amazing things!

Knowing how important (and what great potential!) this daring has, it's hilarious how paralyzing the word 'no' is. I heard a NO this week, and it's ripple effect was incredible. Suddenly I imagined that I needed to scratch all of my creative endeavors and start over. I began to doubt everything! I imagined a group of people sitting in a board room, talking about me and laughing and pointing!

Luckily, my smarter self started laughing at my inner demons and followed that up with a REALLY? You're going to go there?

The real challenge is to figure out how to DARE GREATLY, be totally vulnerable, and put your whole heart into something without giving it power over you. And that is really damn hard. It's really hard to stop the spiral of self-doubt and allow your smarter self to take over. And this is what I've been thinking about this week.

Because, the reality is that we're all probably going to spend our lives Daring Greatly, in one form or another. How wonderful is that? And, the vulnerability that this requires sets us up to get hurt-- to be disappointed, to sting when the buddy gets the role, to shake our fists at the list of grantees that our name is Not On. Again. But, you can be dare greatly, be vulnerable, and still stop the shame spiral by appealing to your Smarter Self. Maybe by...

Mourning that shit. I admit that I'm super bummed that I didn't get _______. I'm also really glad that I hoped so fully (risk taking!) that I'm now experiencing some major let-down. This is normal and good. I'll try to just stick to disappointedly kicking empty boxes in my house or flailing my body about modern dance style, and try to avoid taking my rage out on humans.

Looking at the lesson. Not to get all Mr. Rogers, but I bet you learned SOMETHING from your risk-taking. I did. Actually, the opportunity I did not get taught me a lot about the direction I want to point my creative life towards. Cool. I constantly ask, 'what did I learn? And, how can I micro-adjust my plans based on this?' This is really different from saying OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO QUIT ACTING BECAUSE I'M A TOTAL FAILURE! Which brings me to...

Limiting the steps backwards. The real bummer about risk taking is when you allow a disappointing outcome to push you 10 steps backwards. I was very tempted to do this earlier this week. Everything started to feel personal. It's strange how easy it is to let one negative outcome get in the way of fifty positive ones-- I always see the 'No' in florescent letters right next to the pile of 'YES'. But, step away from letting it become about YOU. You and your work are not the same. Stop the self-doubt spiral. Take a deep breath and return to doing the work. 

Are you fabulous at letting rejection roll off of you? Teach us your ways, oh wise one!


  1. Thanks for the great insight. Just wanted to chime in to say I've heard a big NO recently for something I really hoped for- in fact, not even a no, just a no response. The steps backwards rang true. It was a dream job position, I felt (for the first time in a WHILE) that I had the most kick-ass resume ever, and that I was tailor-made for the position. When weeks stretched on without a response, I started to consider maybe taking a position that was "just a job" doing rote tasks and just doing that . . .forever. My smarter self reminded me that I would be so unhappy as to actually be unhealthy doing something like that.

    So I appreciate the reminders. I read Daring Greatly recently and was very moved by it. Actually enacting those principles? HARD. *fist bump*

  2. Fist bump accepted! Yes-- SO HARD. Bravo for going for it. And for knowing you wouldn't be happy in 'just a job'! We should be throwing vulnerability parties, right?



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