Of course, I’m not talking about asking someone out on a date and receiving a negative answer, although having your work rejected can lead to a similar type of heartbreak.
Before diving in, I feel like it would be good to point out that I’m not tackling the subject as someone who observes from outside, but rather someone who went through all the stages described below.
I’ve had projects, on which I’ve worked for several long years, rejected by several people. A certain musical play which I wrote got rejected by over 203 theatres (both local and international). The Pilot Episode of Inspector Plustard has been rejected by 311 National and International Film Festivals. Twice.
I’ve lost count on how many times we wrote official documents through which we asked for permission to film in various locations, only to receive a negative reply. That being said, let’s explore this together.
How to take rejection
You worked on something – be it a theatre play, a movie, a cake, a youtube video or a drawing – and you sent it to some authority figure in the domain that is important to you. Let’s say that you made a cake and want to produce it under an official name, with an official Cake-License and have an official Cake-Maker support you financially.
You take the cake to all the Cake-Makers you know and present it to them – and they all say “no”.
Does this mean that the cake is not good? Could it be a sign that you need to work more on it?
Well, the answer is not that simple. While there is always (and I mean ALWAYS) room for improvement and development for your skills and works, receiving a negative answer does not necessarily reflect your performance level.
Maybe you made a chocolate cake while all the big shots of the cake-industry know that this year people will be asking for strawberry cakes. This can be applied to any industry – you wrote a vampire book while the book industry has already moved on to zombies; you made a ship model out of chopsticks while the miniatures industry has already moved on to airplanes etc.
You now have two choices: Either you change your cake to a strawberry one… or you stick to your chocolate cake and hope that someone, somewhere along the line will accept it.
Personally, I never change my cake. It represents me, it’s my work, the way I like it, and this is – unfortunately – a statement that can make anyone look like an egocentric jerk. : )
So what do I do with my cake?
As I said, you have two options. Well, you also have a third option – giving up – but that would be counter-productive.
If you decide not to change your cake, you have to go on different routes. Thank God, there are a lot of social media outlets where you can promote your work. Sure, it won’t be picked up by someone official BUT you will be able to get feedback and opinions which are very, very valuable.
Moreover, you never know who can end up on your presentation page for your cake. You have to keep going. Yes, keep going, like a little “robot”, even if you are fully convinced that you’ll never make it. In our case, it was merely a lucky coincidence that someone from Phoenix found our Doctor Who Fan Film and asked us if we’d be interested in sending it over to their Film Festival – where it got 1st place.
John Cleese, a very smart guy, said that no matter what you want to do in life, your success will be less connected to your skills and more connected to luck. Yep, luck. So give it a chance, put pictures of your cake on Facebook, send out samples through Twitter, do anything you can to bring attention to your creation – but never, ever give them the recipe.
Because at one point, someone, somewhere will ask you for that recipe… and that’s your first sign that you’re doing something good.
Okay, did that, now what?
Keep doing it and work on a schedule. There are millions and billions of people with different tastes all around the world. I can assure you that not all of them will like your chocolate cake. Some will take a look at it, deem it to be stupid and move on.
So my advice to you would be to make mini-cakes. Just like Mihai and I coincidentally made funny clips which drew attention to our bigger ones, you should also play with your own recipes. Make a small cheesecake, make an orangecake, try to tackle even that silly strawberry cake that everyone seems to like – keep yourself busy and creative.
The worst thing you can do is to stop and wait for someone to drop by with a miracle. It won’t happen, it really won’t. Just keep making things, creating, doing what you like to do. This way, someone who likes cheesecakes will perhaps take a look at your chocolate cake too.
It’s all related to context and the way you present yourself and your work. There will be more rejections, you will subject yourself to nasty comments and people who will throw virtual rocks at your cake, but in the end that does not matter. It will not matter, you’ll see.
There will always be someone out there who will like what you’ve made. Always. No exceptions, even if they may not be the “official approval committee” you are waiting for.
For every nasty comment, you most likely will get three good ones. Maybe not at once, but in time things will change. I could easily give as an example the author of the Harry Potter books who received a LOT of rejections from huge book companies, yet she kept going.
Yes, she had quite a bit of luck too, but imagine what would’ve happened if that “bit of luck” came along and she’d already given up her work.
So, is that it? Do I just wait and pray?
Nnnnno. You DO. You MAKE. You CREATE and keep making that cake of yours as best as it can be. You keep taking pictures of it, show it around, talk about it, get others to talk about it. That way, when luck strikes, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way.
It’s not easy, it’s not cheap (especially on time) but you have to ask yourself – do I have anything better to do? If you truly believe that your work is good, and you keep growing with it, making it better as the years go by, then one day it will all be worth it.
I cannot guarantee that it will happen this way. Look at Van Gogh, died in poverty with his work not only ignored, but also disliked by many of his peers. That was, indeed, unlucky. Still, life is short and we, as humans, already waste too much of it on meaningless nights and pointless parties. Why not leave behind something of ourselves which may even inspire someone else to become great?
You weren’t rejected. You were given more time to improve, and it is a great gift and a perfect opportunity.