Whether just starting out or well on your way, anyone pursuing an artistic career understands that rejection is a frequent and unfortunate part of the process. Many days you will be left feeling like a poster child for a Far Side Cartoon as you unsuccessfully try to climb up a down escalator. All of this can leave one wondering, “am I any good?” and, “should I give up?”
1. You Won’t Be Everyone’s Cup Of Tea
Some people like Star Wars. Some people really, really like Star Wars. I am someone who cannot stand Star Wars. If someone came to me and asked if I wanted to make the nineteenth Star Wars movie, I would overwhelmingly pass. This does not mean that other people don’t like Star Wars (as evidenced by its booming success and the billions of dollars procured by a never-ending sea of merch). It just means I prefer more subtle indie films. I also don’t particularly care for Ellie Goulding or raspberries. But clearly, other people feel differently since both are doing okay. The point I am making here is that just because one person doesn’t like what you are selling does not mean that there is anything wrong with your product. It just means you can’t be all things to all people. And, honestly, you shouldn’t try to be. You’ll inevitably just water yourself down and become less interesting. Take every “no” in stride and appreciate the fact that it pointed you away from where you didn’t belong and in the direction of where you do.
2. Not Being Ready Is Not The Same As Not Being Good
A couple years ago, someone said to me, “you’re not right for me right now. But you will be.” So I moped around and did some soul searching. I had already worked so hard (relative to myself, that is)–how much harder could I work? This is one of those answers that only reveals itself in hindsight but goes something to the effect of, “harder than I realized.” The thing to remember is that not being good is not at all the same as not being ready; though, upon hearing it, one can mistakenly equate them. The reason for this is that most of us aren’t aware we are capable of being better or learning more until someone challenges us to do it, and we typically sell ourselves short by quietly thinking, “but what if this is the best I’ve got?” The truth is that pursuing a career in the arts is akin to running a marathon and never really knowing what mile you’re at. “You’re not ready” leaves you faced with two options: 1) give up now or 2) get ready. We are living in a culture of instant gratification and the phrase, “art is long,” can sound painstakingly incongruent to millennial ears. But just because you haven’t mastered something quickly and immediately does not mean that you lack talent or that you should give up. If anything, “you’re not ready,” actually provides a bit of validation, tests your work ethic, and allows you to examine how badly you really want something. Side note: I got fucking ready.
3. Luck Matters
The behind-the-scenes machinations of who makes it and in what time frame can be frustratingly arbitrary. We’ve all heard the adage, “luck is opportunity meets preparation,” so, yes, you undoubtedly need to be prepared when the opportunity arises (see #2), but who is granted the opportunity can sometimes come down to elusive variables outside your control. Rosario Dawson was discovered sitting on her front porch. If she had walked inside to grab a sweater at the moment famed photographer Larry Clark walked by her apartment, Rosario Dawson might now be working in middle management. Similarly, there are millions of reasons you do or don’t get a job. Sometimes you’re a blonde and casting wants a redhead. Sometimes the producer dislikes your script because it reminds him of The Goofy Movie and the producer’s five-year-old son thinks The Goofy Movie is scary. Sometimes the job at the fashion house goes to the cousin of Coco Chanel. You are in control of none of these things. Just bear in mind that no one can take your talent and preparation away from you. If you have the goods, you, too, may one day be subject to good luck. So keep going. You never know what’s around the corner.
4. Struggle Begets Substance
I know all the college professors and inspirational memes preach enjoying the journey and finding meditative ashrams and what not, but let’s just be real for a second: all the doors getting slammed in your face right now just really sucks. The good news is that no quality artist ever instantly made it big and then sustained a career drawing inspiration from his or her simple and easy life. Case in point: J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter after the death of her mother while she was jobless, divorced, and poverty-stricken… and it was rejected by twelve different publishers (all of whom, I’m convinced, now spend their nights getting drunk and ugly crying). Had J.K. Rowling been the daughter of William Hearst, she may have drawn a dull picture book which got instantly published before vanishing into obscurity. But that was not her lot in life. She struggled. And she let that struggle drive her. What resulted was the most supple, successful book series of all time. I’m, of course, not advocating that you go all Jared Leto Method Actor and actively seek out torture because it’s “good for your art.” I’m simply saying that it is perfectly fine to experience whatever you are experiencing along this road, no matter how difficult it may be, because it will become the palette from which you will paint your Picasso. And if, “enjoy the journey,” sounds removed and condescending (which I feel it can), let’s create a more grounded and authentic phrase: “lean into the struggle; it makes you you.”
5. Confidence Is Half The Battle
As much as you hate to admit it, it is not always the industry that’s keeping you down–it is you. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances outside your control. Yes, you can do your best and still be met with failure. But if, deep down, you don’t believe in yourself, you will be sunk. And no matter how much talent or competence you possess, your lack of confidence is the thing that will prevent you from crossing the finish line each and every time. This can be the most difficult and debilitating piece of the puzzle. It’s easy to forget that you are deserving in a career that insists on telling you everything that is wrong with you. And it’s even easier to forget to remind yourself not to listen to it before it becomes your own self-sabotaging voice. But always know that you are valuable and powerful by virtue of being you, and it is exactly this belief that you must demonstrate in order to succeed. Believing you are worth it is what will make others believe it, too, and it is what will make you someone they want to work with. So next time that voice in your head starts murmuring, “you can’t do it,” firmly tell that voice that you have outgrown it. And when you find yourself asking, “why would they want me?” do your best to replace it with, “why would they not?”
Are you pursuing an artistic career? What are your tips for staying grounded and focused?
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