What is rejection, and why do we fear it so? The word itself can often be cross-referenced with words such as: denial, rebuff, dismiss, and elimination. Seems like scary stuff for an actor huh? Well, I’m here to tell you why you need to start embracing the art of rejection; and mainly, why you need to start your own “rejection collection!”
What do I mean by a “rejection collection?” A rejection collection, is exactly what it sounds like; a collection of documents and other pieces of evidence that represent a so-called “rejection” from something you tried to attain, but didn’t reach. As artists, we feel rejected every day. It’s probably more often than not that we are seemingly “rejected” from a project or venture than we are rewarded for our hard work. But rejection is actually healthy for us all. And I know for myself, that keeping a log over the years of every time I felt particularly bothered by being rejected from something, has made me stronger over the years. I am a stronger actor because I understand how the business side of things works, and I’m a stronger person because I’ve learned to take things in stride and observe situations as if I were the other person.
So what kind of things does one put in a “rejection collection”? Well, besides your brain and its accompanying memories (which might get a bit mushy and gross if you actually tried to pull those out and put them on paper), the things you should put in are: notes given to you from an industry member about a performance or meeting, diary entries from your own bad actor days, photos from a time when you thought you couldn’t do something, or anything else that reminds you of that rejected moment in time.
Like I mentioned earlier, I, like every other human on this planet, have faced rejection. The earliest one relating to show business that I remember was when a few friends and I tried to enter our fourth grade talent show by dancing to a Bewitched song (90’s kids will know the band well!). We ended up not making the cut because some junior high girls did the same song and one of them happened to be dating one of the 8th grade judges. Nepotism existed then for me in this business, even when it was not technically “the business”. I remember being upset. I was sure of how it was all going to go; we were going to dance to our new favorite song and everyone in the crowd was going to love us. We were essentially going to be the fourth grade’s “Josie and the Pussycats.” I don’t think I honestly cared about the song or the performance, because the part about it that upset me was that things weren’t going to go as I planned they would in my mind. And that’s the trick to mastering rejection; you have to understand that you never know how things are going to turn out. So why get upset when a different and clearly meant to be path is presented to you?
So instead of dancing in the talent show, I probably stayed home that night and watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” And I bet that it was an important episode, that if I’d missed (remember these were the non-DVR days), I would’ve been upset. See how that worked out?
And of course over the years, I’ve faced rejection of all sorts within the actual industry. When I was in high school, my junior year I wanted nothing more than to play Audrey in our drama club’s rendition of “Little Shop of Horrors.” I worked so hard to rock out my audition. (My accent was spot-on dammit!) Needless to say, it wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be and I didn’t get the part. But interestingly enough, I ended up booking my first feature film role a few weeks later. I think of that moment and those events as the first time I believed in “fate”. I’d been so distraught over a stupid high school play (as if that was going to make my career), and then ended up getting to have a blast and learn so much on an actual movie set. Although I still felt that painful sting of rejection, I was also able to see that sometimes when we don’t get what we want, we do end up getting what we’re meant to have. (Did I just paraphrase a Rolling Stones song? My bad if I did.)
Through the years, I’ve saved notes written to me by the occasional agent or casting director who thought I “needed work” or looked much older than I was. I have a note from an agent who rated me as looking in my late thirties. I would not be offended at all if I were actually in my thirties. But being in my early twenties at the time, I was confused. But what things like that show me, now years later, is that not only is this an industry filled with opinions, but that I’ve grown immensely over the years. My novel has been rejected many times and I continue to make it better; never giving up and always open to learn more. (Is it any surprise that I’ve saved some of those rejection emails from publishers as well? Yep, I have).
So if you haven’t already begun your “rejection collection”, I urge you to start now. Because as things pile up, you will eventually reach a point in your career where you can look back and smile at how far you’ve come. You can inspire others through the progress you’ve made and the attitude that you will conquer any challenge you face; just like the ones you can look back on any time you need a good dose of empowerment. Live Long and Reject On!