… And why they’re not always a bad thing
I got hit with a few defining, career-related rejections this year. And like any ambitious person can attest to, it hurt. Zora Neale Hurston said, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” This will definitely go down as one with a lot of unanswered questions on my end. And the answers I did get were to questions that I never asked. Thanks a lot, 2017. No, I actually mean it. Because whether I asked for them or not, I’ve learned a few new things about stumbling blocks. And how else can I show I care but to share them with you? Sharing is caring, right? So here goes.
Rejection is not rejection. It’s feedback.
Fine, rejection is rejection but stick with me here for a minute. I submitted a short film to a film festival. Because I am an artist and we’re egotistical like that, I was convinced my work was amazing and there was no way it wouldn’t get selected. I thought it was the cutest little short. Great production, check! Attractive cast, check! Engaging story, check! Was that not the formula for every successful Hollywood movie out there?
My movie didn’t get selected.
Naturally, I was disappointed. Then disappointment slowly gave way to creative arrogance. ‘They don’t get my art,’ I told myself. ‘I chose the wrong film festival.’ ‘My story is better suited to a different audience.’ ‘It’s their loss.’ They’re gonna miss me at that festival!’ And all other things we say to make ourselves feel better. I may not have been wrong. But all that asides, due to that rejection, I decided to take another look at the film. And then I began to see my blind spots. I began to find room for improvement. I went back to the drawing board.
I am still not done fine-tuning, which suggests that there was a lot of work left undone, to begin with. Now, if the movie had been selected right away, I would probably not have bothered to take a second look it. It may have been a good movie, but the rejection provided an opportunity for me to make it even better.
Rejection is an opportunity to practice moving forward.
A TV host asked me what I thought were the steps to achieving success in a recent interview. The only honest answer I could provide, the only answer that I truly believe is that success is doing what you love and that the only step to achieving it is to not stop doing it. It sounds corny but it’s true. And here’s what I mean: One thing as sure as the sun rising tomorrow morning is disappointment every now and then. So to be successful at anything, you kind of have to become familiar him – don’t ask why I think of disappointment as a dude.
Now, if disappointment is a dude, rejection is his older brother. So with every rejection, you get to practice your ability to say a quick ‘hi’ to disappoint, keep the conversation real short and move along. Until you two meet again. Because just like his older sibling, disappointment is a persistent jerk.
‘NO’ means you’re pushing your limits.
My best example here is my younger sister. Fine, I want to brag about her a little. Indulge me. She will be graduating from college in a few months with a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering and Masters in Environmental Engineering, AT THE SAME TIME!
She’s currently job searching and every young adult knows exactly how it goes with that. Employers don’t care if you finish top of your entire sophomore class in Chemical Engineering. Employers don’t give two flying unicorns about your multiple scholarships and awards. What employers do care about is the amount of work experience you have under your belt; something that most young adults unsurprisingly have very little of.
We were rehashing the agonies of the job hunting process one day when we both arrived at an epiphany: Screw it! Apply for everything. Even if the currency required for the position is more work experience than she has, she’ll leave a deposit of interest nonetheless. This may not be the smartest time-management strategy and she is bound to receive a significant number of rejections. But one thing we can all agree on without a shred of doubt is that she is pushing her limits. She is living her best life. She expects to be rejected but is not afraid to go for it even when she suspects it may be a long shot. She is daring to tread beyond her comfort zone and putting herself out there.
As the title of a Ryan Holiday bestseller posits, obstacle just might be the way depending on how you approach it. So you could wallow in rejection or you could acknowledge it as you would an old acquaintance, allow yourself to be taught by it, wave it goodbye and walk away. Until you two cross paths again.
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