How to Persevere Through Rejection
By Sophie Katz
Many parts of being a professional creative are objectively wonderful. As creatives, we pursue careers in the art we love, be it writing, acting, visual art, or countless other mediums. We bring stories to life, create worlds for others to play in, and collaborate with and learn from other incredible, brilliant artists.
But let’s face it: sometimes, being a creative sucks.
Any career path involves facing rejection. While not getting the opportunities you need to move forward is never fun for anyone, rejection can feel especially personal for creatives because of our tendency to see the world through a narrative lens.
A lot of stories follow a similar path: the hero has a dream, is told the dream is impossible, decides to pursue the dream anyway, faces hardships, and achieves the dream – roll credits! Creatives strongly identify with this story. Consequently, rejection makes us feel stuck in the “faces hardships” stage. It can hurt even more to see the people around us achieving their own dreams while we are still waiting to reach that point.
What can we do about it?
The week before I got my dream internship was one of the worst weeks of my life.
I received multiple rejections for other positions, while people around me got jobs and promotions. I had a meeting with someone who entered the industry through one of the internships I had just been rejected for, and embarrassed myself by crying during the meeting. I was overwhelmed with fear that all the work I’d put into pursuing my dreams – college, traveling across the country, countless networking events and career development workshops – was for nothing. I doubted myself, and I doubted my dream.
Then I got a phone call about an interview, and a week later I got a call about an offer, and I spent the next five months writing theme park entertainment at Walt Disney World.
I was literally living my dream: writing for a living, bringing beloved stories and characters to life, and working with and learning from the most brilliant creatives I had ever met. In this abrupt transition, I experienced a kind of emotional whiplash, suddenly switching from being near tears all the time and thinking that my effort had been for nothing, to being unable to stop smiling and believing that anything was possible.
However, I knew that at the end of those five months, there would be no full-time job waiting for me. I would be back in the “faces hardships” stage, trying to figure out how to make a living creating the art I love. I realized that I had to find a way to avoid experiencing that emotional whiplash again in the opposite direction.
The “faces hardships” stage of pursuing your dreams is like quicksand. Sometimes it feels like the quicksand seen in movies, the kind that traps you and sucks you down. But real-life quicksand doesn’t “suck.” If you relax and lie back in the mud, you will float.
How can creatives turn rejection from deadly “movie quicksand” into something more manageable? How do we keep up morale when we’re not achieving our dreams?
Here are some things I keep in mind.
1. Some things are out of our control.
Hard work is necessary for achieving dreams, but some people take this idea a bit too far, believing that hard work is all you need, and that all hard workers will always achieve their dreams. But no dream is built on hard work alone. There are just too many factors outside of any individual’s control.
As a creative looking for work, you don’t have any say in a company’s budget, or whether they have a role for you at all. On the day of an interview, you can’t control your interviewer’s mood, or the specific criteria they’re looking for, or the skill level of the other people applying for the job. All these things and more affect your ability to make a living creating the art you love. If you believe that hard work is the only important factor, then you will blame yourself for not yet achieving your goals. You may see yourself as a failure, and you may even give up.
As creatives, we have to recognize that some things are out of our control, and keep pursuing our dreams anyway.
2. Some things are in our control.
I’m not a big fan of the phrase “right place, right time.” It implies that success is entirely up to chance. But while it’s important to acknowledge that some factors are out of our control, it’s equally important to recognize the factors that we do control. So I prefer to say, “right place, right time, right person.”
We may not be able to know where and when the “right place” and “right time” will occur, but we all have the power to continue to develop ourselves, so that when the factors out of our control finally fall into place, we will be ready to take that opportunity.
We can fine-tune our skills at the art we love, through workshops, classes, and even doodling at home. We can seek out fun, inspirational moments that remind us why we love what we do. We can keep our friends, family, and coworkers informed about our goals, so that they know to support us and root for us. And we can continue to work, apply, submit, and interview over and over again, because above all else, we have control over how often we try.
3. The best world is a world full of art.
It’s easy to view other artists as competition. After all, they’re striving for the same opportunities as you, right? Our individualistic society encourages us to believe that we have to step on or over other people in order to succeed.
But art is not a sport. There are no opposing teams, and no winners or losers. Instead, art is a community. The way to “win” at art is to create a world with as much good art in it as possible. This requires that creatives support each other. We have to trust that there’s enough success to go around, and that another person’s gain is not our loss.
This is not easy.
It’s taken me my whole life so far to reframe the envy I feel at another writer’s success as a sign of how much I love my craft. I have to consciously replace my “I’m jealous of you” thoughts with “I’m so happy for you,” and remind myself that I’ve gotten this far because of other artists who devoted time and energy to teaching, critiquing, and encouraging me. My creative community does not fear that my potential success will decrease their own. Instead, they cheer me on. I owe other creatives that same courage and kindness.
Disappointment is a natural, appropriate response to rejection. Never shame yourself for feeling down. The shame is in using that feeling as an excuse to hurt others, or as a reason to give up on your art.
It is also important to avoid Aesop’s “sour grapes” trap. After a rejection, well-meaning friends might say, “It’s their loss for not choosing you!” or “It must not be meant to be; you should pursue a different field.” But it isn’t really anyone’s loss. It was just another person’s moment to shine. And that doesn’t say anything bad about you, or about the company that didn’t choose you, or about the art you love.
Working toward the future can be really difficult. But if we let that stop us from trying, then we won’t be ready when the stars finally align.
The best thing that we creatives can do is to continue to pursue our passions. We must keep learning, continue creating, and consistently support the artists around us – and take pride in doing so. The results may not be apparent today, or tomorrow, or this year. But through our work, we create a world full of art and a life full of purpose and joy, and that is worth persevering in the face of rejection.