Trembling forward, we hand the work to the gatekeepers of our future. And there we wait, silently cursing ourselves for bothering in the first place. But it’s not all criticism, no, there’s a voice. A quiet thing, found all the way up in the cheap seats. The one with the honest face and violent nosebleed.
It's this voice—the kind that’s told, “No, they’re not allowed to use the bathroom, and they should leave before someone calls security”—it’s this voice that tells you to be brave. And it does more than that; it encourages you to plan for white sandy beaches, sun-kissed horizons, and forevers dipped in chocolate.
It says all manner of things in a small confident voice, and against your better judgement you listen.
Then, after around fifteen seconds, the appropriate gatekeeper looks up from your work, and explains, rather flatly, that it’s not for them.
Mr. Nosebleed up in the cheap seats watches you shuffle towards him. Little out of ear shot he leans forward, smiles, and asks how it went. He’s so confident in your abilities that it comes as quite a shock when you strangle him with his clip-on tie.
And that's rejection.
Situations change, whether stories, disco light coaster mats, even hearts. All are given with the expressed understanding that you're not quite sure why you're doing this, that you don't think it's worth the bother, and that you’ll have a meltdown if they don’t think it’s good.
Learning that your art isn’t very good is rather like tossing your ego into a nest of bees, waking them from their perfect dreams, only to remind them that they’re late for work. Foolish business, but we keep trying, till one day, you corner someone desperate enough to let you do it for the price of a cheap coffee.
So what does all this mean?
It means that the best way to deal with rejection is to get used to it.
It isn’t about you. It isn’t looking into the depths of your being, from dimples to DNA, deciding that the world would be better off without you. It isn’t even rejecting your work, not really. It’s simply a rejection of what you’ve shown them.
When dealing with rejection it is easy to turn your back on the world, trying to sound as serious as possible when you say, “This is why I don’t bother!” This is an acceptable response (for about five minutes) after that, you’re left with a choice, a decision.
You could spend the rest of your days explaining how the world couldn’t handle someone of your genius, or you can get to work.
Feedback is important, which is why it should be accepted generously. Having something to work with is better than sifting in the dark. Not all employers are going to give you feedback, so it’s important to involve other people in the process, an embarrassing thing, but one that can be of immense value while you develop your craft.
Find the people who can be honest with your work.
Learn to think differently about rejection. Don’t let a current project define your whole career, instead aim to fail as often as you can.
Rejection is not a failure; it is a misstep, a small alarm to reveal what works and where to go. Some people will always reject you and this is painful, but the more you experience it the less significant it becomes. What was once a total and catastrophic revelation of the lack of your being slowly becomes a matter of taste.
Someone telling you that your work is terrible is only devastating for as long as they can back it up. The inner critic can only listen to the excuse, “because you’re stupid” so many times before it stops sounding like advice and more about how terrifying it is to go after what you want, even from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like you.
Rejection is a judgement, and it rightly hurts when appropriate, but if you’re serious about your craft, job, or love life, then surely you want to know when something isn’t working? Better to rub the knots and bruises from your ego than to sit in the wreckage of what could have been something great. This is hard, this means admitting that you’re not that good, this means doing something about it.
So, back to how to handle rejection. My answer is simple: experience it. Look for it, chase it out from under the bed along with all the other monsters. Get a good look at it. Listen, when you can. Remember to breathe. And then try again.
It’s not likely to become fun, but it is important and will continue to stay so for as long as you’re willing to listen.
Try again. As often as you can. Try again.
Bradley Heywood was born on May 07, 1991, in Manchester. He studied Animal Behaviour, where he learnt that life was—and would continue to be—just fine without him, giving more time to focus on stories.
Connect with Bradley Heywood on Twitter @bradley_heywood
RWJ Contributing Author
...and epic storyteller!