Reframing Rejection In The Arts

My life has always revolved around creativity. Even at the age of ten, I was belting it out in musical theatre festivals and winning public speaking contests. My first job after college was as an entertainment host at one of the local TV stations in Edmonton, Alberta. I enjoyed my work, but I felt restless. Shortly after my twenty third birthday, I decided to take a risk. Manhattan was a big leap to make, but moving there seemed like a force greater than my common sense. Whenever I’d visited, its bright lights and ferocious energy inspired me to work hard. I’d never been anywhere else that matched the sparks I felt with this city. Upon arrival, with no job prospects, I settled into a roach infested all-ladies dorm in Chelsea, and enthusiastically began pounding the pavement.  With a bit of luck, I landed a Production Assistant role at a television company that created shows for Discovery and MTV. It wasn’t an on-camera gig, but it helped pave the road of hard work that led to interviewing some of the world’s biggest stars, which I’ll talk about later. More importantly, it forced me to confront my faulty perspective on myself as a performer.

You see, one thing that always plagued me creatively, was my debilitating fear of rejection. I absolutely hated being criticized or given the thumbs down. Hearing people’s negative feedback made my skin crawl and my heart palpitate. I felt as though I could read the mind of every casting director I met. “They hate me,” I’d conclude, after every failed audition, not realizing I was needlessly torturing myself.

 When I arrived on my first day at the midtown studio, the head producer assigned me to the casting department. Ironically, the job was to interview, and basically reject most of New York’s young actors auditioning for the biggest reality shows and commercials on tv. This casting work turned out to be life altering because it pushed me to finally question my outlook on rejection. Everyday I auditioned some of the most talented, attractive actors in New York and most of them simply weren’t right for the narrow parameters of the role. We cast a minuscule number of people, and they weren’t necessarily the best of the bunch. They simply fit the part. The guidelines were strict (a red head with a degree in archaeology, who’s great on camera? Really?), and I had to find this person, somehow. Working from that perspective taught me that rejection in the artistic world truly isn’t a reflection of your talent.

The decision makers are expected to keep the lights on in the business. That means finding a specific combination of traits. From the artist’s point of view, this process is a numbers game. The more  you put yourself out there, the more you raise your odds. The key is to stick with it. The mythical stories we’ve heard about stars who immediately hit it big when they came to Hollywood are rare, and fabricated by PR teams. They don’t mention the prior years of rejection, because it’s not glamorous, and it’s the number one reason most artists quit. The reality is you must earn it, and that involves hearing the word ‘no.’

 As a creative professional, your job is to prepare for each chance to showcase your ability. Rejection, of course, will never be pleasant, but what will keep you moving is knowing when you hear  ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ it’s not meant to shove you off the path. It’s meant to push you in the right direction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *