Why rejection is good for your artistic soul

I’m writing this for one person in particular, but hopefully it will help all kinds of creative people going through a tough period of rejection.

So, the girl I’m writing for has been dancing and dreaming of dancing since she was tiny, when she was a wonderful, standout talent. But of course talent that is standout and almost effortless at primary school, goes on to dance school, and then longs for proper residential ballet school and of joining an illustrious ballet company and performing on the international stage. And at every step of the way, the pool of standout talent becomes much bigger, the rigours of training, stretching and pushing your body to the extreme become so much more demanding and, little by little, realising your dream begins to look impossible.

And this is the case for almost everyone who ever wrote a story at school that blew the English teacher away, or sang a solo that won the regional prize, or played the violin and held the Christmas concert audience spellbound, or had art work displayed in the school hall… and so on. Those moments when our talent was recognised, awakened the dream.

We thought to ourselves: ‘This is amazing… and almost easy!’ ‘Could I do this for the rest of my life?’ ‘Could I make this my career?’ We dare to dream.

Dare to dream

But as we get older, we have to put in more and more work to get to the higher levels we aspire to. It’s not so easy any more, not so effortless. We have to train and practise much harder. We face criticism. We demand better of ourselves and our trainers, editors, teachers and coaches demand it too.

We join a much bigger pool of talent and start to compare ourselves to the others around us: the writer whose work attracted far more attention than ours, the dancer who sailed through two auditions and into the role of dreams. It’s not so joyful any more. We are envious. We criticise ourselves, scold ourselves. We wonder what we’re doing wrong. Why our luck isn’t so good.

And then comes a rejection that just floors us. In the case I’m writing about – a no from a dance school that felt like the death of a dream.

When we put so much of ourselves into something, so much blood, sweat, tears, so much soul, then it’s so bitterly, bitterly hard to have to hear that you didn’t make the grade.

I know. You probably know. It happens at some point to everyone who creates. And it feels so dreadfully personal, because who else are they rejecting but you and your talent? Other people may help, encourage, guide and support you, but your talent is a fire from within. And when you’re a young and insecure artist, that flame is small and easily extinguished.

I know the girl I’m writing for is already thinking: maybe I’m not good enough; maybe I’m not going to be chosen by the other schools either. Maybe I’m going to have to shelve my ballet dreams and chose another type of dance. Maybe I’m going to need to pick a totally different career, hang up my ballet slippers, walk out of the studio, and turn my back on the barre forever.

I’m quite heartbroken to even know she’s thinking these thoughts.

Because when you’re turned away for the first time, when you don’t sashay into the next step of your dream career as easily as you thought you would, it’s not a failure. It’s not a disaster. It’s definitely not the time to say ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘this isn’t for me’. This is a very important turning point for any budding artist. It’s the moment when you realise that no one else keeps the flame burning but you. No one else gets to choose whether you’re an artist or not, but you.

Embracing rejection

It’s the point when you have to decide if you’re just another talented person who survives on encouragement from others, or if you’re a real artist in development who can encourage herself, can see a reason to keep dancing, painting, writing, singing, creating if for no one else but herself.

And the very interesting thing that starts to happen when you are creating just for yourself, is that you begin to become original. You begin to develop your art, your style, your way. And that is the first step to becoming truly good.

The pain of rejection, you bring it into your artistic world, so it becomes a tool you can use. The next time you have to write or act about something incredibly difficult or painful, you have this reservoir of painful experience to draw on. And you have your resilience to draw on too. You know that you’re a little bit stronger now too. You’ve suffered pain and you’ve built on it and it will never hurt you quite so much the next time.

And you sharpen your practise. The next time you offer up a piece of work, or turn up for an audition, you’re going to be so much better prepared than you could have dreamed of before. You’re going to have worked on this writing, this solo, this dance forever, and with your full heart and soul. It’s going to be your favourite piece, and it’s going to contain your effort and your passion. It’s going to demand everything from you and more. And if that doesn’t move them, never mind, because you know it’s good. You know it’s the very best you can do right now. And if you need to get even better, you’re beginning to develop your very own tools to do just that.

The world needs every kind of artist. The world is also a very harsh place for artists. The demands… the competition… the price of entry is incredibly high. Everything improves every single year.

Challenges and obstacles to your dreams will show up early. They are there to find out just how serious you are about this creative business. I encourage you to embrace the obstacles and, yes, even the rejections, every single one of them. Work out how you’re going to learn from and then overcome them. How you’re going to use them to fuel your passion. To make you much stronger, much more skilled and even more committed.

The world needs your fire. So stoke it up and make it burn.

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