You can’t always get what you want: dealing with rejection

a door with a graffetti heart on it and then the word 'nope!' written next to it.I’ve been applying for lots of opportunities recently – part of my strategy of trying new things, partly because the pattern of my work seems to have shifted from a few large contracts to many small pieces of delivery.

With a great number of applications, comes a mixed bag of responses – some yes, some no, and some are in between (do more and resubmit).

It’s in the midst of this that I’ve been reading Resilience: facing down rejection and criticism on the road to success, written by Mark Mcguinness, specifically for creatives. It’s not a wishy washy self-help mantra guide, but instead has clear, practical guidance – how to tell when you should do something about what you hear, and when you should just move on from it, how to deal with your own critical voice and how to best handle failure – and success.

I found the section on the ‘black box’ particularly useful. You never know what happens inside a black box – you put stuff in (stimuli), and stuff comes out (behaviour). One impacts on the other but you never get to know why. Like when you send in an application somewhere and the strangest ‘no’ email arrives, telling you nothing about why it’s not you, or even worse, you never hear anything ever again.

“Were they too busy, too lazy, or even too embarrassed or scared to tell you the bad news?

You’ll never know, the answers inside the Black Box.

Maybe the gatekeeper rejects you but doesn’t give you any feed back. What did you do wrong?

You’ll never know, the answers inside the Black Box.

Maybe they reject you and you get a standard response – a template they just printed out and signed… So how did they decide you belonged in the reject pile?

You’ll never know, the answers inside the Black Box.

Maybe they reject you and give a reason that is factually inaccurate, or an obvious lie. What was the real reason for turning you down?

You’ll never know, the answers inside the Black Box.

If you want to, you can spend the rest of your life trying to work out what is in the Black Box… but what’s the point?”

Basically the point is once you know it’s a Black Box you are dealing with, the only solution is to stop trying to analyse why. Accept it and move on. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for feedback or try to find out why you didn’t succeed at something. It just acknowledges that (often) you’ll never get to find out the true reasons – and if you aren’t going to be able to find out, then don’t waste valuable energy exhausting yourself making it all up. Love it when you find a name for something you experience often – I now have a shorthand to help me label it, and move on quick.

There are many other tips and techniques, labels and thoughts within it, and it was a good book to be reading yesterday because I hit a rejection – quite a big one – for something I have been working away at for a long time.

Oddly though, it doesn’t feel bad.

It was a positive rejection, if you like. They gave what I can now label ‘action criticism’ – clear relevant comments I can do something about. They were specific about what didn’t fit for them, and how.

They were also welcoming about us reapplying – their ‘no’ included the line: ‘this is potentially an excellent project but…’ so plenty to take heart from.

In fact, rather than disappointed, I feel galvanized.

If someone had asked me how I would feel now, I would have said sad, upset, gutted, disappointed, embarrassed – but actually if I stop for a moment I feel none of those things. I feel listened to, acknowledged and supported.

The bit of me that is disappointed is my need for speed. It will take me longer to get what I want. But I can also see that this is a good thing – slow can be good. More time to consider, reflect, adapt and improve.

So today is a day of consideration and thought. How much of what they want can I take on? How flexible and adaptable can I be without changing the nature of what I want to do? How can I word things better, more clearly, so that others understand?

There is a section at the end of the book that talks about dealing with success, and the fact that it alone isn’t enough. When the success comes, that’s when the work often starts, not ends.

“Yeats wrote of “the fascination of what’s difficult” – the drive to keep tackling the most challenging, inspiring, frustrating, and maddening challenges you can find. Whatever you achieve, whatever problem you solve, if you remain curious, you will always find another challenge that fascinates you. Rewards, honors, and other trappings of success are nice to have, but nothing beats the challenge itself.”

I can relate to that. So a bit of time today tweaking and adapting. Then, what’s next to apply for?

Image by Daniel Oines and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

2 thoughts on “You can’t always get what you want: dealing with rejection

  1. Thanks for this Jo very helpful for all of us! Having never had a stable “proper” job in my life, rejection is part and parcel of my daily life, strangely as the years have gone by I have either developed a strategy or I have become tougher, and somehow the “no thanks” email or letter has become a far more palatable experience. Few people ever hear or know about the many rejections I do get because I never talk about them, they are liberated as soon as I get them, out of the window of my mind. They have to be turfed out quickly so I can refocus to seek the next exciting opportunity and continue to be creative and the best bit of all is you really never know what may be waiting around the corner. So I have still never had a “proper” job and bit by bit those dream commissions and projects really do turn up! Being a life long optimist probably helps a little bit too…..

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