Getting over rejection: Creatives, and a therapist, share their stories and methods
In conversation with four creatives and a therapist, we uncover stories of rejection: the ways it can be dealt with, the lessons that can be learned, and how sometimes (suspend disbelief) it may even be a positive experience.
Let’s face it, rejection hurts. Putting your all into a project for it to only get cut; applying for your dream job and not even getting to interview; posting a new piece online, and receiving a flurry of negative feedback. It’s never easy, and it’s usually pretty hard to deal with. Though one fact that may give peace of mind is that rejection is a universal experience: every single creative at some point in their journey will have experienced it, and will likely continue to do so no matter how successful they become.
Rather than trying to avoid rejection, finding ways to deal with it – and maybe even potentially seeing it in some instances as a positive – is an important step. Janey Morrisey is a therapist who works with creatives, and she’s provided us with some of her top tips for working through rejection. Firstly, after experiencing rejection Janey says it’s important to give yourself space to grieve. “Loss is loss – be really kind and compassionate to yourself.” Secondly, it’s important to practise acceptance. “One of the key things I work with my creative clients on is developing an awareness that they feel a lack of control over their careers and lives,” she says. “It can be so tough. Establishing acceptance and letting control go can be really challenging, but so rewarding.”
Janey says it’s important to realise that the creative industry is a pretty unique one, and one built in part on luck. “Sometimes it helps creatives to surrender a bit to the randomness of their working world”. Using these mechanisms, Janey believes it possible to build up your resilience and build strength from project to project. “[Rejection] can be a great learning curve in self protection,” says Janey. “Beautifully, creatives allow themselves to be vulnerable in their work, but rejection helps them to put boundaries in place so that they feel less personally hurt in the future.”
We spoke to creatives with successful careers who have experienced rejection at different times in their journey, to prove just how common it really is. Though, importantly, our conversations also demonstrate just how varied the experience, response and lesson can be.
Trying to scramble your way into a career in the creative industry can be pretty disheartening, a fact the illustrator Aysha Tengiz knows all too well. At university, Aysha’s illustration course was what she describes as “experimental”, encouraging a more fine art approach to the medium. While Aysha loved the course, she left university without a portfolio that translated to commercial creative work. “I had been floating about in the lovely bubble of education and once graduating it finally popped and I was vulnerable to the elements of real life,” she says.
In desperate need of a job, Aysha applied to every creative position she encountered – only to be rejected by every single one. Aysha had no experience, but if no one wanted to hire her, how exactly would she gain any? “You’re stuck in this dead-end situation and it can feel really hopeless. There’s so much anxiety and stress after having the luxury of loans and grants, to then having to learn how to be self-sufficient.” When Aysha instead ended up getting a job in retail, she recalls feeling like a “failure” – but this career progression proved anything but. Through working in various shops, she learnt things like formulating emails, building customer relationships, and understanding how to manage stock, essential skills for any independent maker, and ones that are often missed out of an arts education.
“If I had believed in the opinions of a handful of people, it could have broken my dreams of being an artist completely.”Aysha Tengiz
As Aysha wasn’t using her creative brain during working hours, she felt able to dedicate days off and evenings to expanding her portfolio and developing a personal illustration style. These two factors became essential in helping Aysha finally make the (still very scary) leap of becoming a freelance illustrator – and it paid off. She’s now been commissioned by the likes of Google, The New York Times and Stella McCartney and recently illustrated her first widely-published children’s book. “I have no idea how my career would have developed if I had actually got any of the jobs I applied to,” she says, “but working in a non-creative job was exactly the right thing for me.”
Over her career Aysha has learnt that there’s also something to be said for trusting your gut and not letting instances of rejection dictate your whole outlook. A few years ago she wrote and illustrated a small but riotously colourful independent book, A Spot of Loneliness, in the hopes of breaking into the publishing industry. Every single publisher she sent it to rejected it, with one bookshop even saying to her face that it “wasn’t good enough”. Knocked down by such feedback, Aysha nearly didn’t enter it into the 2020 AOI illustration awards. But, low and behold, A Spot of Loneliness went on to win the award for alternative publishing professional, an accolade which has now opened numerous doors for the illustrator. “If I had believed in the opinions of a handful of people, it could have broken my dreams of being an artist completely,” she ends.
Janvier Wete is the founder of Minute Shorts, a short film streaming platform and app that champions emerging filmmakers. Like Aysha, rejection leading to something new (and maybe even better) is something Janvier can attest to, after his rejection from film festivals gave him the impetus to forge a whole new path entirely.
In some ways, Janvier’s story is one of creative success, and from an early age at that. At just 18 he wrote a TV pilot and sold it to Channel 4, then going on to direct and produce commercials for the likes of Vice, Apple, Google and many more. But, there was one big problem: Janvier’s true passion lay firmly in the world of short films. Alongside his commercial career Janvier fully immersed himself in the short film world, and he would spend hours scouring YouTube and attending film festivals, gaining a pretty solid idea of what was being produced. Though Janvier wanted to make something a little different – something that would make him stand out. After funnelling most of the money he made commercially into his personal projects, Janvier admits that the first two or three films he made “weren’t that great;”; but he persisted, and then came his film Lyfe is For Enjoyment. “I made that film and was like – this is it,” says Janvier. However, out of every single film festival that Janvier entered it into rejected it.
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Aysha Tengiz: Crying (Copyright © Aysha Tengiz)
The experience affected Janvier personally, but it also spoke to broader industry issues that had come to his attention. When he attended film festivals and screenings they were undiverse both in age and ethnicity – predominated by middle aged white folk. “It felt like such a massive exclusive club,” Janvier recalls. Not only were the events homogeneous, but the films being platformed too. “All the films I was seeing had the same message and the same look.”
“When you receive rejection, it can be so overwhelming. It’s about trying to find something that will completely snap you out of it.”Janvier Wete
In response, Janvier decided to tackle the issue head on, personally creating a short film platform that was truly diverse and – unlike the elitist film industry – accessible. Janvier wanted to build something that anyone and everyone could use: those who loved short films, and those who may never have watched one. He looked to apps such as Spotify for their breadth and ease of usability. “What Spotify did really well was it made music accessible to everyone. Like my mum uses Spotify, my Gran uses Spotify,” he says. Now, Minute Shorts is a carefully streamlined framework which allows you to filter content you watch by the minutes you have to spare, as well as a film randomiser and curated playlists. Alongside this, it also holds events and collaborates with organisations like The British Independent Film Awards and Girls in Film, providing a space for filmmakers who may once have found themselves in Janvier’s position.
Janvier now believes that rejection is something creatives have to get “comfortable” with. Even now with the success of Minute Shorts, rejection is a part of the everyday – clients and projects don’t make it through the pitching stage, or fall through at the last minute. Though Janvier believes there are ways we can prevent it being such a difficult topic, with things like greater transparency online (its safe to say he’s not a fan of LinkedIn bravado); always asking for feedback and using it as an opportunity to grow; and, perhaps the most simple yet important – working out how you deal best with rejection. Personally, Janvier copes by popping his headphones on and going for a long walk around London. “When you receive rejection, it can be so overwhelming,” he says. “It’s about trying to find something that will completely snap you out of it.”
What happens when rejection comes from those who arguably matter most (your audience) in a space known for its sticky relationship with nuance (social media)? Known for his organic style and penchant for blending digital and analogue techniques, the illustrator and designer Bráulio Amado is a leading figure in the creative industry. He’s set styles and become a highly sought-after collaborator: but in the online world even Bráulio isn’t invincible to rejection.
Earlier this year Bráulio was approached by the singer songwriter Ben Howard to create the cover art for his upcoming album Is It?. Ben and Bráulio collaborated closely, going through many ideas, sketches and versions together, before unanimously agreeing on a final design: a pink face with hazy green eyes and thin smiling lips eyes atop a bright blue backdrop, lines connecting the eyes and lips spelling out the album’s title. An explosion of block colour and characterful charm, the cover is fun, but it’s utterly bizarre too – and that’s what Bráulio loves about it. “I often try to push my work to the weird side. I feel so stuck on my own habits and tricks of drawing and designing, that I try to trick my brain to go somewhere else I normally wouldn’t,” he says. “I like when my work feels like it was done by someone else.” He’s not sure why this is the case – perhaps it’s because he’s his own “worst critic”, or a learned process after so many years of practice. But he felt the Is It? cover was a perfect example of this approach – it felt fresh and it felt new.
“I thought I would feel somewhat badass about it, how art is meant to ‘provoke’, but it actually made me really sad for a couple of days.”Bráulio Amado
But when the album was announced online, the feedback far from matched Ben and Bráulio’s feelings. In fact, it seemed that most of Ben’s fans hated it. Alongside a flurry of negative comments on the Instagram post, Bráulio began receiving direct messages from Ben’s fans disparaging his work. The backlash was like nothing Bráulio had faced before. “I thought I would feel somewhat badass about it, how art is meant to ‘provoke’, but it actually made me really sad for a couple of days,” Bráulio says. “I felt like I was responsible for disappointing a lot of Ben’s fans.”
When eventually posting about the album on his own Instagram account, Bráulio outlined the negativity he had received and the impact it had. He got a text from Ben telling him he still loved the cover and some fans even got in touch to tell him how much they had liked the work. Though something didn’t feel quite right and he deleted the post – he realised that he had given in to the very thing that had caused him such anguish in the first place. “Internet and social media is a fucking black hole and I made the mistake of falling into it,” he says.
The only thing that gave Bráulio respite was receiving the physical copies and spending a moment properly appreciating his work. “I looked at it, took a big breath and told myself I should be proud of how weird that cover looks and that I was able to capture what the person who wrote the album envisioned,” he says. Sometimes, your work won’t be to everybody’s taste – ‘you can’t please everyone’ – as the old saying goes. But if you’ve managed to inspire yourself and those you’re collaborating with, that’s often more than enough – and something worth holding onto.
Studio Ping Pong is a small yet “mighty” design studio based in Calcutta which has devised a playful way of nursing the experience of rejection; a website in which they lay all of their unsuccessful ideas and pitches “to rest”.
When the studio was first finding its feet back in 2021, its founder Kritika Trehan tells us that rejection was very hard to swallow. But now, the studio has been on a journey to “accept rejection”, searching for a common ground between its work and the clients’ perspective. “Over time this has taught us how to do better, look at things in a new light or understand why a certain idea worked better than the other.” Through this process the studio also came to an important conclusion: though a project might have been rejected, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth celebrating. So, in time for its two-year anniversary, the studio wanted to create something to commemorate the projects that didn’t make it. “While social media and our portfolio presents a very glossy picture, we wanted to publish the real (dark) side of the design process with a touch of humour,” Kritika says. “Reject Pile is a way of celebrating iterations, emotions and the chaos of the design process itself.”
“What was one project’s trash has been another’s gold.”Kritika Trehan
Riffing off an on running joke the studio had of rejected projects “resting in peace”, its team created a graveyard you can scroll your way through, with each project receiving a headstone and a witty elegy: ‘No Glass Ceilings Were Broken’ for a rejected pitch for the identity of a feminist podcast, ‘A Very Short Film Indeed’ for a logo for a German film festival that didn’t make the cut, ‘And They Fell Asleep’, for the packaging design for a wellness brand crating sleep remedies that didn’t quite fit. When you click on each headstone you can read more about each project, and view the mock-ups, images and designs.
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Ping Pong: Reject Pile (Copyright © Ping Pong, 2023)
The intended function of Reject Pile is multi-faceted. For the studio, it provides a sense of closure – a way of paying homage to projects that didn’t quite materialise and providing a space to reflect on what may have not worked. On the flipside, the Ping Pong team have also found themselves returning to the “graveyard” when they’re lacking in inspiration – “what was one project’s trash has been another’s gold”, Kritika says. What’s more, the studio hopes that the honesty of Reject Pile (albeit tongue-in-cheek) provides their design community with a sense of reassurance; things may not always work out, but who knows, maybe you’ll laugh about it one day.
Rejection isn’t exactly be a desirable experience, but it’s far from solely a negative one. You may not have got your dream job, but you might learn vital skills in another position. Rejection from one area of an industry might push you to forge a new path in another. Backlash online may instigate an important moment of self reflection and acceptance, and a project not making the cut can be flipped on its head with humour, and the desire to learn and grow. So while rejection might still be a gloomy word that strikes fear in the creative world, does it really have to be so?
If You Could Jobs Rejection Guide
Last month our sister company If You Could Jobs published a guide to moving beyond rejection penned by the writer editor and creative strategist Sarah Trounce. Below is an extract of Sarah’s tips and a link to read more.
- You might feel bewildered or deflated, wondering what you did wrong – but rejection is a common hurdle we all face. Rather than seeing it as a deadend, try to think of it as only a temporary glitch. In fact, every rejection is really the beginning of a new direction.
- The trick to dealing with the sting is to acknowledge that it’s a universal experience (you’re not alone in feeling this way) and to remember that you will get past this. Time heals, and in the meanwhile, you can try to understand what was within and outside your control – and what you can take away to come back stronger.
- It doesn’t matter if you received a ‘no’ this time, it’s still a great idea to send a follow-up email to underline how much you enjoyed meeting the team and that you'd like to stay in touch about other roles in the future.
Copyright © Bianca Beneduci Assad
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.