Not hearing back from or receiving word that you were not selected for an opportunity you really wanted just isn’t fun any way you slice it. Putting yourself and your art out there takes work both physically and emotionally, and rejection (especially if you’ve had several recently) often takes a toll on us as creatives.
You’ve probably heard advice to reframe it as practice or take it as a sign that something better is coming, which I do believe can be helpful for some. That said, in this article I will share a few practical steps you can take to help you navigate rejections so they don’t cause unnecessary stress or discourage you from going after the opportunities you desire.
1. Normalize it.
Everyone experiences rejection or will at some point. While getting rejected may feel like a rain cloud is stuck above your head specifically, remembering that it is a universal situation can help make it feel less threatening and hurtful. It’s good to think of the bigger picture and realize that not every opportunity is meant to work out as we expected. In a way, it’s a numbers game. So the more you apply, submit, and pitch, the more likely you are to have those dream exhibitions, sales, gallery partnerships, and more, come to fruition.
2. Embrace what you’re feeling.
There definitely isn’t a rule that says we have to brush ourselves off right away or that whoever ‘gets back on the horse’ first wins. You’re absolutely allowed to feel disappointed when you hear back a no. In fact, that is probably evidence of how much you care about growing your career. Author Beth Pickens in her book Make Your Art No Matter What suggests setting a time limit to allow yourself to experience these feelings - is it a few days, a week? Try out this tactic if you think it may work for you.
3. Seek out feedback.
Having clarity regarding what didn’t work or why you weren’t a fit may help you better process the rejection. If that is the case, feel free to reach out and ask for constructive criticism. Not everyone will respond, but sometimes you can receive useful feedback. If the thought of doing this doesn’t appeal to you, try asking a trusted peer or close friend instead. You can even do a self-evaluation where you go back, review your submission materials, and honestly evaluate if there is anything you could have improved.
4. Apply to a new opportunity (or two, or three!)
For me, the easiest way to shake off a rejection is to get excited about a new one! Fingers crossed, maybe this will be the yes you’ve been waiting for :)
From the business of art seminar I took as an undergraduate student, I’ve never forgotten that one of the guest lecturers showed us a photo of his stack of rejection letters. (Side note - anyone else remember getting actual letters in the mail? The worst!). While you certainly don’t have to keep them or count them like he did, I do hope that with every rejection you still thank yourself for trying and do your best to look forward rather than dwell on what could have been.
If you’re still feeling stuck, there’s a whole chapter on rejection in our book The Complete Smartist Guide. Find out more about this bestselling business resource for artists here.