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What creatives can teach the rest of us about rejection

There’s no denying that rejection can be hard to swallow. Whether you’re applying for a job, floating a business idea or even engaging on social media, opening yourself up to the scrutiny of others is a vulnerable experience.

Putting your heart and soul into something only to hear critiques (or crickets) in response might not feel good but it almost always provides an opportunity for growth.

In the creative industries, rejection is just part and parcel of doing the work. ‘All writers have lots and lots of rejection and part of becoming a writer is learning to cope with that,’ says Dr Briohny Doyle, a lecturer in Creative Practice (Writing and Literature) in Deakin’s School of Communication and Creative Arts.

‘It’s the same with other kinds of gate keeper industries like acting. You have to develop a thick skin if you’re going to keep doing it because it can be quite crushing.’

So what can creatives teach those in other industries about putting ideas out into the world?

Rejection isn’t failure

‘As a writer you become very resilient,’ Dr Doyle says. ‘I’ve certainly experienced multiple rejections on projects that eventually found publication and readership so I don’t take rejection as indicating a failure.’

Something can be rejected because the timing is wrong or a project hasn’t found the right audience yet. ‘The thing with writing books is you could write one that may have been accepted at various times but is now rejected because of market pressure or trends,’ Dr Doyle explains. ‘I think learning not to take that too personally is always a good thing.’

It’s not about you

‘Don’t hear people’s criticism of your work as a kind of a judgment of your personal failings,’ Dr Doyle says. ‘Rejection, whether it’s from a market force or whether it’s peers or something like that, doesn’t necessarily equate to personal or artistic failure. Okay, maybe the work isn’t as good as you hoped it would be or isn’t succeeding in the various ways that you hoped it would but it’s certainly now a stepping stone to something else. A work that doesn’t achieve its goals might still end up becoming really important to some future work.’

'Don't hear people's criticism of your work as a kind of a judgment of your personal failings.'

Dr Briohny Doyle,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

Over time, creatives will generally develop a personal strategy for processing critique. ‘Everyone has their own ways of coping with stress and rejection,’ Dr Doyle says. ‘If I’ve experienced rejection or deep criticism on a piece of work, I just put it to the side for a moment. I read the criticisms, feel whatever I feel, then put the work to the side.’

For Dr Doyle, time can bring perspective: ‘I come back to it when I feel less invested and see what I can take from that rejection or that criticism to make the work stronger in the end.’

Rejection can strengthen your ideas

Dr Doyle says experienced writers could teach those in other fields about the importance of holding strong to a personal vision while listening to alternative opinions. ‘Collaborations can make the work stronger and always reaching beyond the obvious can strengthen your work,’ she explains.

‘I think with every rejection you learn something slightly different,’ Dr Doyle says. ‘Part of perseverance is dealing with people disagreeing with you or rejecting your ideas. Rejection can be an opportunity an opportunity to develop or to go in different directions that you might not have thought of on your own.’

Whatever ideas you might be hoping to get off the ground, it’s important to see value in the process without becoming too attached to outcomes. ‘I’m a writer,’ Dr Doyle says. ‘I’m exploring ideas in various ways. Exploration never equates to failure because it’s creative, analytical and in conversation with the world.’

Have you experienced adversity it on your professional life? Learn how the challenges you perceive as failures might assist you on your career path.

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Dr Briohny Doyle
Dr Briohny Doyle

Lecturer in Creative Practice (Writing and Literature), School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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