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Hello my friend, rejection.

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

There is an ‘I’ in rejection. Luckily, there are also two in resilience

This is a rejection story.

There’s an ad for a website builder that goes something like this… “I had this thing I made. I threw some pictures up online, and I started to get feedback. People liked it! Now, thanks to this website I have a brand and an audience”.

If only that were an accurate portrayal of the creative process. You make something cool. Your friends like it, so you pop it up on the web, and boom! You have a business.

Of course, the reality is that starting something new is never that easy. These picture-perfect narratives become even more annoying when you’re struggling to find your footing. Take this week for example, I was excited for an opportunity to work with an amazing online shop, only to be rejected.

Rejection stings. Its uncomfortable and embarrassing. Its also unavoidable. So I thought… why not write about it?

Today I share with you a story of rejection, and my 7 patented steps* to becoming more resilient.

*Not actually patented.

STEP 1: Take Action

You can’t get rejected if you never try, so if avoiding rejection is your goal… skip this step entirely. Don’t take action.

Or, you can try something new, like I did.

I reached out to a company that I really admire. I was thrilled when they responded and showed an interest in my designs!

I don’t have much experience with selling wholesale, so I got to work preparing a price list. I cracked open excel, made some formulas, and tinkered with it till I cracked the pricing code. I began to format this playful, colorful, price sheet to send to them. Seriously, ya’ll. I’m proud of it.

I even reached out to a few folks I know who manage stores. I asked them questions like “Do these prices seem fair? Does this page have all the info you look for?”

In other words. I had made the artwork. I did the research, and I finally had the all-important lead; my “in” at an online shop I had been stalking on Instagram. While I wasn’t expecting a resounding YES, I wasn’t prepared for rejection either.

Step 2: Get Rejected

You knew this would be a step in the rejection process, didn’t you? It might go a little like this…

Earlier this week (did I mention this *just* happened*) I was going about my errands when I decided to take a peek at my email. There it was. A response from my dream retailer! Could this be the break Dog Sweater Money was waiting for? Could I make an exciting victory blog post? Finally have work in front of thousands of viewers? Pop open the champagne?

Of course not, silly. If it was, then this wouldn’t be a post about rejection and resilience. There would be a lot more gloating and exclamation points and smiley emojis.

Look. I’ll admit it. I’ve always been one to daydream. I get carried away. The term “don’t get your hopes up” means nothing to me. I see every opportunity like a scratch off lotto ticket, full of possibility.

I don’t play the lotto, so perhaps a better metaphor would be checking the mailbox every afternoon. Sure, I know its probably going to be full of bills and political flyers, but it doesn’t stop me from hoping that I’ll get a surprise package or envelope with a great big check.

When I opened my email, I found a brief, polite response. In short… this particular opportunity was not a winning lotto ticket. At least not today.

Rejection can feel like getting punched in the stomach. You can tell yourself its not personal, but it still feels personal. Unfortunately, the only way it gets easier is to get more practice at being rejected. Fun, huh?

STEP 3: Pity Party (ugly cry optional)

When disappointments happen, I recommend letting yourself feel all the feelings. They are still going to be there if you try to ignore them, so its just quicker to face them.

I spent the drive home listening to sad sap music. It’s embarrassing and overly dramatic. I find sitting with pain helps me get past it. I give myself some time to feel sorry for myself. Not forever. Not long. Just enough time to let the disappointment sink in.

My song of choice for these situations is Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke”. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize it’s about people in much more dire situations than myself. It doesn’t change the fact that it is oh-so-satisfying when Carlile sings “I’ve been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends, and the joke is on them.”

To clarify, its not that I hold a grudge against anyone for being rejected… its just that sometimes feelings haven’t had a chance to catch up with reality. In these situations, loud singing and dramatic music are highly recommended.

Step 4: A Little Help from Your Friends

Its comforting in times of doubt to hear someone sing about perseverance. Resilience takes faith. I don’t necessarily mean faith in God (though this may be true for you). For me it is having faith that if I keep taking steps forward, everything will eventually fall into place.

Its not always easy to believe that things will work out, especially because of the common narratives surrounding creative-types like me. It seems there are two messages: the one in the ads that says “I just popped stuff up online and it was so easy!” and the other message, which is “no one really pays for art… you’re better off with a practical skill.“

After a tough blow, there’s nothing like a friend or loved one to hype you back up. If you have a best friend that will listen to you chatter non-stop, you are lucky. This is the time to call them. Sometimes you just need an outside perspective, someone to be a cheerleader for you when you’re not feeling too cheery.

STEP 5: Remember this has happened before

Though it might sound like an awful idea, try to remember times you’ve been rejected in the distant past. I’m sure it stung, but you got over it. Its comforting to know that one day this rejection will be a distant memory too.

For example, when I was in college I applied for an art fellowship. The application process was rigorous (did you know that not that long ago, artists had to submit slides** to be considered for art shows?) I was a finalist for the fellowship and got as far as the second interview. When I was told I didn’t receive the fellowship I’m sure I was bummed. The truth is, I don’t remember it that well. What I do remember is the following year when I opened an acceptance letter at the mailbox and called my mom screeching with excitement.

That’s the reason we keep going. Keep those wins in mind when you have a tough day.

**SLIDES! As in Don Draper on Mad Men nostalgically pitching the slide “carousel” to Kodak, as in using a 35 mm camera with actual film, as in going to a camera store to buy slide film, as in getting slides processed at a specialty lab, as in you don’t know how your project turned out till a couple days later (and maybe not even then unless you have a projector or one of those cool personal slide viewer things.) Seriously SLIDES!!!**

STEP 6: Look for the silver lining.

As an optimist, I’m contractually obligated to give that glib advice “look on the bright side”. I apologize to all you skeptics, pessimists, and realists out there. Please bear with me.

I sang my heart out and completed the pity party rituals and, almost like magic, the sting of rejection was neutralized. This happens more quickly over time. What at one time may have gotten me down for a week, I’m often able to shrug off in an afternoon.

Resilience takes practice. Luckily, through lots of awkwardness, failures, and rejection, you too can get good at bouncing back!

Once that sad fog lifted, I reread the message in my inbox. It was the same email, only this time I interpreted it differently. No, they didn’t want to buy my products, but they did tell me to get back in touch when I have a catalogue and a line sheet.

The door wasn’t closed. The email didn’t say “we hate your designs” or “this isn’t right for us”. Better yet, they responded quickly, which tells me that my designs are being seen by someone. A week ago that someone didn’t even know I existed. That’s something, right?

STEP 7: Start all over again

Remember how I said you’ve gotta go through this process many times to become more resilient? Well here, is where we pick back up again.

With a fresh perspective it was time to research and regroup. The email response said I should send a “line sheet”, which is a term I wasn’t familiar with. I was just a google search away from finding a bunch of examples, templates, and tutorials. It wasn’t that different from the price sheet I already made.

If you’re lucky, rejection leaves a clue behind. What feels like a setback can actually move you farther ahead. .

With that in mind, I’m dusting myself off and getting back on the proverbial horse. I look forward to a future post where I’ll have a big success to share.

In the meantime, keep on chooglin'.

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