Why You Should Celebrate Rejection
words by Kara Chamberlain
Most of us do everything we can to avoid rejection, but I think we should embrace it and maybe even seek it out on purpose.
Let's be honest, rejection sucks. There is no good way to be rejected, and learning to accept it is a difficult road. Artists will experience a LOT of rejection during their careers. Whether it is an audition that doesn't go your way or a venue deciding they don't want to program your show, each opportunity to work comes with the chance that the answer will be 'no'. So how can we continue to seek out opportunities knowing that rejection lurks around most corners?
Being rejected can be very motivational.
If you really want something, it doesn't matter how many times you get rejected. Each "no" is an opportunity to pick yourself up, look at how you can do better next time, and give it another go.
Part of my commitment to becoming an actor comes from all the times people told me it was really hard and that I wasn't going to make it. As a high school graduate, my answer to the question "so, what do you want to do after graduating?" was that I was going to get my BFA in Acting (the Canadian equivalent to drama school) and then move to the UK for my post-grad.
Of course, despite auditioning repeatedly I did not get in to the BFA program (2 auditions). Or the National Theatre School (2 auditions). I completed my BA in the Drama Honours program (where I learned a lot of theatre theory) and set my sights on moving to the UK and getting an MA/MFA.
I did not get into Central, or RADA, or East 15.
Eventually I managed to get in to the Bristol Old Vic (thanks to someone dropping out) and my drama school dream came true.
On my way to that success I faced a lot of rejection over many years. Each time I faced a choice: give up or keep going. It was a testament to how badly I wanted to succeed that each fall only made me more determined.
There is always a silver lining.
Even though the opportunity you were hoping for might not happen, you never know what other benefit you will get from taking a chance. You still might learn something, meet someone important, learn about another opportunity, or in my experience get the autograph of a person you admire.
Here's the story:
I had high hopes, since someone had told me (wrongly) that success would only come if I got into RADA or Central. By the time I got to my RADA audition I'd already had a no from Central, so there was a lot riding on it. Also it happened on my birthday, and no one wants to fail on their birthday.
The audition was the longest one I've ever done, including a devising workshop, written essay, and a one-to-one interview. By the time I got to the interview I was feeling good, everything else had gone well and I was in the home stretch. Then it all started to go wrong.
Unfortunately, saying that I was starting a feminist theatre company did not impress to two 50 year old men across the table from me. And when they described the course I suddenly sensed it was not what I wanted to do (a devising program with minimal class time and not much acting training). There is nothing more awkward than being in the middle of an interview that you have paid money and flown halfway across the globe to attend, on your birthday, only to realise it's not the right fit.
That rejection did not come as a surprise, but it was still a bummer...until I saw the bottom of my official rejection letter. There was Alan Rickman's signature, he was the patron of RADA at the time. Suddenly the whole experience became worth it.
You have an opportunity to grow.
There is always room for improvement, and getting a 'no' gives you a chance to reflect. In many cases, there may not be a clear answer as to why you were rejected, so it is important to be loving with yourself and avoid falling into unhelpful criticism. Here are some questions you can ask yourself, and some possible ways to make positive change:
Is there a clear reason why you were unsuccessful at this time? If so, then you can have a think about what you might do differently in the future. If not, this is a chance to practice the art of letting go. You may not always get answers, and learning to be okay with that and not obsess is a powerful mindset to practice.
Were you able to do things the way you had hoped to? Maybe everything went perfectly and you wouldn't change anything, that's great! But if there were any parts of your plan that you didn't do in the way you had hoped, working on that might be the key to future successes.
Could this be part of a bigger picture? This is a great moment to think about the bigger picture: who did you just meet? who have you connected with? did something you said on your application/in an interview/at your audition inspire you in some way? There is always a bigger journey, and as humans we love to give meaning to our life story when we look back. If we project that storytelling power into the future, it is very easy to see the many possible outcomes that a rejection can bring. Of course they may not all happen, but it is a good exercise to remind yourself why risk taking is worth it.
Celebrate the risk you took.
Way to go, you risk taker you! As Wayne Gretzky says "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take", and you took a shot.
There is no shame in someone saying 'no' to you, only proof that you put yourself out there. Being mad at the person who rejected you, or at yourself for not getting something, isn't going to get you very far. Of course, you need to feel all the things that come up, and there is a lot of benefit to feeling the emotions that come with rejection (If you aren't convinced, watch this video from the School of Life ). Those emotions, difficult though they may be, are a signal that you have done something amazing. You took a chance, you were brave, you faced the fear of failing and that is a massive success in itself.
So as you make space for the emotions that come up, also give yourself some time to relish the fact that you did a really great thing. That way, when another opportunity prevents itself, you'll be even more open to taking the risk again. Champions weren't made by getting everything they wanted right away, they failed and learned to get back up. Just like you.