It’s no secret that surviving in the creative industry requires an incredible amount of resilience, especially if you want to thrive. Failures can sometimes be as often as successes, if not more common. As a young creative, rejection can be one of the most challenging things to come to terms with.
Picture this. You’ve been pondering over an idea for a while, but something is missing. In a eureka moment, you come up with an idea you think is phenomenal, the best idea you’ve had to date. You stay up all night thinking of the possibilities. This could be a breakthrough — the next big thing. You walk into the meeting the next day with the biggest grin on your face and a hefty dose of confidence, only to be shot down before you even finish your presentation, your boss or client casually dismissing the idea you put your blood, sweat and tears into.
Repeat this process over and over again. There are two ways it could turn out: one: you get upset, feel resentment, frustration and an overdose of negative emotions that one day leads to burnout. Two: you take it on the chin, keep pushing and after multiple attempts, you finally find success. But how can you make sure you fall into the latter category?
I remember going to an Yves Klein exhibition and waiting hours in the queue with excited fans of his famous blue artworks, only to hear a voice behind me complaining, “This is an actual waste of time. It’s literally just blue handprints on a piece of paper. Our son could do that in five minutes.” Clearly, even some of the most celebrated, famous, artistically successful pieces of work are seen as utter junk by others. That’s just how creativity works and you have to remember that sometimes, disapproval does not mean your work is bad; it’s just a reminder that people have diverse individual preferences. And wouldn’t the world be boring without that?
If your professor, boss or investor gets critical of your ideas and work, it doesn’t mean they’re trying to target you. We all know the feeling — our work is criticised and we start questioning our capabilities, then personalities and snowball into undoing the intricate web of our entire self-confidence. That, or we turn — in urban dictionary terms — “salty” and begin reciprocating with animosity, in the worst-case scenario deteriorating the working relationship. Sometimes, you have to learn to separate yourself from your work and learn to detach that perceived, added negativity from reality. It’s hard when the idea is, in a way, a manifestation of your creative self, but learning to accept that the criticism is not a reflection of the entirety of your abilities will slowly help you to use it constructively. Remember, it’s called constructive criticism for a reason.
In reality, many impressive creative ideas don’t get produced or approved because of a whole host of other reasons, often tied to the economics of the project. If you’re in advertising, a creative idea that seems award winning is redundant to a client if it doesn’t sell the product. If you’re in the film industry, you can write a phenomenal script and have it sitting in a producer’s drawer for years collecting dust because he or she doesn’t think it will appeal to the general population enough to bring in profit. Often, approval isn’t about an appraisal of your skills or creativity; it’s about satisfying the clientele or business. That’s just how it works. Some creators believe in separating money from art (Banksy, anyone?), but if you’ve chosen to be in the commercial creative industry, this is a common reality you have to come to terms with. And while you’re doing that, why not put a positive spin on it and see fulfilling all parties as an exciting challenge?
If it doesn’t work out, don’t scrap it. Many ideas are useful for other projects or provide you with inspiration and insights that could lead you to create something successful. I was once told that “No idea is a bad idea, just not an appropriate one.” Not all ideas are appropriate for an audience or client, and sometimes they’re not relevant to the time period’s interests and trends. After all, look at the number of famous composers and artists today whose million-dollar pieces weren’t worth a penny when they were first created. If you think the idea of a project is truly something you believe in, store it for later, develop it, or keep trying to find success with it. If people gave up that easily, Harry Potter would have never been made and imagine a world without that.
Most importantly, don’t let yourself experience burnout. A lot of the time, the amounting stress and rejection we feel from failure leads us to give up or feel an insurmountable degree of insecurity. Take a break if you have to, talk to someone, or work with someone to see if they can help you improve your project. Come back to it when you feel like you’re ready. Maybe you’ll put a spin on it, maybe your new additions will be that last cherry on top. Regardless, never give up. Bigger than rejection is regret, and the worst thing to do would be to give up on your dreams or the creative job you love because of rejection or criticism. Sometimes, we have to remember the adage of ‘sticks and stones’ and, like how we train our muscles, train our reactions and emotions to grow immune to falling into a negative spiral and instead build spines of steel. It may be challenging initially, but in the long run, courage and perseverance always separate those who meet with success to those who don’t. Keep pushing, keep trying, and success will eventually find you.