Handling Rejection Through Building Resilience

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CII, No. 6June, 2002

Jackelyn S. Frost, CSW

One thing is certain in the music business: stumbling blocks to success abound. Unfortunately, experiencing rejection is part of being a musician. Accepting that problems will arise and finding solutions to your problems is half the challenge. The other half is implementing your strategies and tactics consistently and professionally.

Fear of rejection in one’s musical career can manifest itself in many ways: desperation, overreacting to failure, not pursuing business activities that need to be done, procrastinating, sabotaging oneself, trying to be someone you are not, not following through on commitments, and on and on. Many people give up when faced with rejection. Yet, for every yes, there are sure to be countless no’s. Musicians tend to be sensitive souls, and that sensitivity can make them more vulnerable to the pain of rejection.

Rejection can cause you to feel unworthy, unwanted or undesirable. It may evoke feelings of anger and depression. The first step in handling rejection is to learn how to distinguish yourself from your work. You may pour your heart and soul into your music, but to survive as a musician you must be able to establish “boundaries” between yourself and the music you create. Success may become impossible if you cannot bear the pain of rejection.

The same challenge faces people in other fields. For example, professional athletes must learn to handle rejection by their teams, coaches or fans without allowing it to affect their performance in the next game. They must mentally separate their performance from how they feel about themselves as individuals. Good athletes know that when the fans are rejecting their performance, the worst thing they can do is let their skills suffer. Instead, they must develop the inner strength necessary to create an even better performance in the next game or event.

Likewise, as a musician it is better to tell yourself “I am disappointed in my performance” than “I am disappointed with myself.” To bounce back, you need to continue to believe in yourself.

Any constructive feedback that comes with a rejection can be a good thing, because it helps you understand the reason for the rejection. As a musician, you must also be willing to question honestly whether, in fact, quality was the issue. For most, excellence is achieved by endless practice throughout your lifetime. Fortunately, there is always the possibility of improving your skills.

The day rejection ceases to hurt is probably the day you have lost your passion for musicianship. Pain is not a bad thing; it simply means you care. But if you are going to practice your craft, you will inevitably get a lot of rejections over time. To some degree, you must get used to rejections so each one is not utterly devastating. Starting on new plans and goals will occupy your mind so the rejection stings less, and will help you regroup as quickly as possible.

If you cannot put rejection into perspective, it can cause you to feel less and less confident in other areas of your life. Understanding that you are not being rejected as a person when you do not get picked for a music job is a very important distinction to make for yourself. If you send your tape out and it’s rejected, realize that the song is being rejected, but not you personally. You may have written the song or you may be singing it – but that represents your work, not yourself. You can always write or sing another song.

Fear prevents many artists from moving ahead in their work and taking the necessary risks to expose their art. Fear of rejection looms larger for some people than death itself. Artists are challenged by fear every day. Every performance may give rise to self doubt: “Am I good enough? What if I fail?” Giving too much power to your fear may inhibit your creative ideas. Learning to use uncertainty and the adrenaline it generates as a stimulus can impel you to work harder to reach your potential.

Use your feelings of insecurity to motivate you to take action. And when you are rejected, try rewarding yourself for having made the effort. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities you will have for achieving success.

Being a musician may represent a way to get attention and respect. As long as you are working, these emotional needs may be met through the recognition you get from audiences. But between gigs, feelings of unworthiness and uncertainty may overwhelm you. For a more balanced emotional life, you may need to explore other ways to get these needs met.

Too many musicians forget that, to grow as an artist, life experiences are what matter most. Instead, many get carried away with music to the exclusion of almost everything else – friendships, family, other arts, nature, and other interests. These are essential to keeping your creativity inspired and flowing. Leaving these other aspects of life unexplored or undeveloped can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and discouragement.

It is disappointing to be rejected for a gig you really want, and it can be a painful reminder of other situations in which you did not get what you wanted. Denying your disappointment when you experience rejection can cause more problems. Understand that it is a natural reaction, then let it go and move on to the next audition.

If you find yourself getting more and more depressed about incidences of rejection in your career, there may be deeper issues you need to address. It may be important for you to seek counseling before things get worse. There are always options and ways to feel better. If you would like to schedule an appointment to speak to a social worker in the MAP office, please call us at (212) 358-0724. Our services are free to Local 802 members.