I’ve always been called “extra sensitive.” It’s still an emotional trigger, which was proved by the surge of rage that overtook me when my boyfriend barely touched upon the notion. I’d just received a poor rating from a client on an article that I’d poured extra time into, making sure I got it just right. He still paid for the article but didn’t ask for a revision, and then he blocked me from future submissions.
Bad reviews stir up self-doubt, which is hard to simply shake off. Suddenly, you’re sent into an emotional tailspin thinking that everyone else has more experience, better insights, and perhaps even more natural talent than you. For me, I want to write full time one day, so naturally I began twisting the negative experience into a sign from the universe that I’ll never make it in the freelance world. But that’s pretty dramatic and silly of me. As much as I know it isn’t true, that uncertainty still bounces around in my head looking for some other little piece of doubt it can cling to.
Overcoming rejection and dealing with disappointment is difficult, especially for young writers and artists, but an absolutely necessary skill if you want to succeed. So how exactly do you do it?
1. Keep everything in perspective
For most creative types, a task, however mundane, is not just a task. It’s an extension of us and a chance to show off our capabilities and imagination. That means we pour ourselves into the project no matter if it’s a pure pleasure sort of task (like a novel) or an exercise in monotonous corporate drudgery (like designing the new company business card). Because of this heartfelt dedication to the project, we end up taking any rejection even harder.
Remember, rejection happens to everyone else, too—even if they don’t talk about it. No one receives gold stars and wild praise for every task. As a first step, repeat this to yourself. Trust me, it does help.
While I was busy harping on this one incident, I couldn’t see all the other good things blooming up around me. In the same week I’d received rave reviews from two other clients with the promise of more work, I’d been given a few challenging and high-profile writing assignments at my day job, received a few compliments about my blog, and was then offered the chance to contribute to FTS.
When scrutinized on its own, this mishap was framed as a major setback, but when blended into the overall backdrop that is my career, it was really nothing.
2. Turn those negative emotions into something positive
You know, like this post I’m writing right now. The best way to recover from a disappointing result is to move onto the next project. Rather than wasting precious time and energy dwelling on what happened, refocus that energy. Be productive. Channel those feelings into your work. Our best pieces emerge from emotional places when our feelings are raw and primal. Plus, nothing helps you get over the past fast like enjoying something new and exciting. Think of it as a rebound project.
I know this tip might seem a bit unlike the others, but it works. Plus, it’s just good for you—mind, body, spirit, and all that. I didn’t want to work out after I got my bad news. In fact, I was excited to have a legitimate excuse to skip the sweat session. Instead, I wanted to dwell on it and sulk and cry. But instead of that, which I recognized would be completely unproductive, I hopped on my stationary bike, watched an episode of Total Divas (because they have killer bodies that make me pedal harder) and then listened to some thumping music at high volume. It lifted my spirits. It distracted me. It got some endorphins going to combat my negative mood.
Was I completely over what happened? No. Was I ready to get a good night’s sleep and tackle my next project in the morning? Yes.
4. Believe there’s still time
I don’t know what it is with Generation Y, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be successful at a very young age. We aspire to a level that’s barely attainable simply because we can name two young people who did it and were then profiled on a blog somewhere or because we know someone who miraculously landed a killer job after a short internship.
Those are exceptions, not the rule.
We forget that the majority of professionals don’t hit their stride until they’re in their thirties and that our twenties are designed for making mistakes, learning, and growing creatively as well as emotionally.
We act as though we’ll turn into pumpkins at thirty if we haven’t achieved a certain caliber of professional or personal excellence that arose from wild dreams when we were much younger and more naïve.
For instance, when I was eighteen, I’d convinced myself that I’d be the next Bret Easton Ellis, publishing my senior thesis at twenty-two. Imagine my disappointment when I still hadn’t hit that goal at twenty-five after receiving my MFA. I finally got my first short story published this year at twenty-seven.
In creative fields, persistence is king. Rejection and disappointment are plentiful. Being truly successful isn’t defined by how well you’ve avoided any and all criticism, but rather, how you coped and learned from those experiences to become a better writer or artist.
I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who can completely let rejection or setbacks roll off my back, but I do think I’ll learn to handle those moments better and prevent me from further discouraging myself from continuing to do work that I love.