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How to Handle Rejection in the Entertainment Industry

Deejay Mash has worked in the entertainment industry for over 20 years. He is also a consultant, event planner, writer and researcher.

Entertainment has the highest rejection rate of any industry

Entertainment has the highest rejection rate of any industry

Rejection is the norm

No industry in the world can match the high rejection rate found in the entertainment business; 99% rejection, 1% acceptance. The industry is hard-wired to reject without fear, favor or exception. What makes the rejection worse is how it is often served; hard, cold, brutal and harsh.

Additionally, there is no limit or control to the number of times it can happen. Over time, creative’s grow a thick skin- rejection becomes the norm, while acceptance elicits surprise.

Unfortunately, the toughening up process can take years, and not many can endure the torture that long. Most give up on their dreams and opt to pursue other interests, and precious talent goes to waste. Others attempt and fall by the wayside, while the rest tackle the rejection head-on and work to realize their dreams against the odds.

However, there is a silver lining to the industry’s rejection strategy. Individuals learn to build a strong foundation, in values such as resolve, resilience, perseverance and determination - only the strong survive. This is why actors, musicians and models who have succeeded in the industry, are some of the most humble and down-to-earth people you will ever meet.

The high rejection rate takes a heavy toll on its survivors, and does not leave them much of a choice, except to discover and embrace humility, the hard way. Experience does teach wisdom after all.

The decision makers such as film and music studio executives, on the other hand, are some of the most unpleasant people to be around; due to the immense pressure, demands and responsibilities of the industry that come with the office - to deliver 100% success. It leaves them mentally, emotionally and physically drained with no time or energy left to even pretend to play nice.

The King was once fired by a hotel manager after just one performance

The King was once fired by a hotel manager after just one performance

How the rejection system works

Millions of people perceive a career in entertainment as glamorous, sexy, high paying and leads to fame; everybody wants a piece of the pie. Subsequently, the huge interest attracts all sorts of people- some of the world’s best creative minds, and those who want in for other misplaced reasons such as association, bragging rights, selfish gains and fame; yet, they lack what it takes.

The latter group is the majority and if gifted a free pass, would only crowd the industry, and add no value. One unwritten rule in the industry states, ‘do it for the love, not for the lights’, and sums up the secret to achieve longevity and success in entertainment.

When the reality of joy riders came to light, the industry turned to the attrition system to weed out busy-bodies. Attrition is defined as, “the action or process of gradually reducing someone or something’s strength through sustained attack or pressure.” It is a ruthless system, commonly used in the world of politics to wear out opponents into submission.

Entertainment comprises of the most passionate and obsessive professionals of any industry. The few, who somehow undeservedly find a way through the cracks or back-doors to side-step the attrition system, never get far.

Another reason why the rejection rate is so high in entertainment is because the industry has so many creative’s playing almost similar roles; yet, the decision makers are very few. For example, movie screenwriters outnumber film studios; musicians are far more in number compared to music production houses. Therefore, the odds of rejection increase tremendously.

A Casting Director once told Hollywood Legend Sidney Poitier to stop wasting everybody's time in his attempt to act

A Casting Director once told Hollywood Legend Sidney Poitier to stop wasting everybody's time in his attempt to act

Psychological Effects of Rejection on a Creative

The fear of rejection is deeply ingrained in the human DNA since prehistoric times when humans lived in tribal cocoons. If the tribe rejected a member, it meant imminent death. No member could survive without the support of the tribe. Consequently, it triggers survival instincts and spells doom, which results in acts of desperation and costly blunders.

Rejection is borrowed from the Latin word ‘rēiectus,’ which means ‘to throw back.’ While it is a constant feature in every stage of life- childhood, teenage, adulthood and old age, studies show creative’s take it especially hard. This is because of their passionate nature, the tedious process that goes into developing a concept from scratch, and the time and resources invested in the course of the creative journey.

A study carried out by the University of Amsterdam found that rejection upsets the nervous system and triggers passive thoughts, which in turn, lead to passive actions.

Another study by Stony Brook University revealed the part of the brain that is most active in the event of a breakup, is the same associated with reward, addiction withdrawal symptoms and motivation.

A rejection response is equivalent to that of a nasty breakup, especially if heavy emotional and financial investments were involved. When the positive outcome that was anticipated turns negative, the mental withdrawal from the initial bright thought becomes extremely difficult to process. It is identical to withdrawal symptoms experienced by a recovering addict.

A series of experiments on dogs by two Psychologists, Steve Maire and Martin Seligman, delivered mild shocks to the canines after every move they made. When the dogs finally realized that no action on their part would provide respite from the shocks, they gave up trying, lay down and begun to whine.

Constant rejection, results in a creative losing hope and once this happens; it activates the fear of taking risks. The mind resolves that whatever project you may come up with, will most probably be rejected.

Pessimism, anger, resentment and cynicism set in and can lead to rants on social media, or any other available platform that provides an opportunity to whine and complain; while taking no tangible remedial action.

This is a recipe for depression.

Stephen King's first thriller novel was rejected 30 times

Stephen King's first thriller novel was rejected 30 times

Ways to handle industry rejection

Nothing personal, just business

The rampant rejections are not personal attacks. Consider them as business decisions; it hurts less. Remember, the industry is dominated by a few financially-focused and result- oriented top executives. Remain steadfast, continue the forward march and keep knocking on doors.

Eventually, all the pieces fall into place. Often, the ones who reject you initially are most probably the same people who will grant you an opportunity later.

Rejection is never permanent.

A sports study by Purdue University conducted by Psychologist Jessica Witt observed that after a string of missed kicks, players began to believe the goal posts were farther, narrower and taller than they normally were. But when the kicks started becoming successful, they claimed the posts appeared larger and nearer.

Handling rejection is also about perception and the only thing one sees when it occurs; but when doors begin to open, the outlook changes.

Toss naivety and bitterness out the window

As a newbie in the industry, a lot of players tend to praise your work and tell you exactly what you want to hear, only to face rejection soon after. Others, attempt to take advantage of the inexperience and gullibility.

Never rush, good things take time. Accept the praise with a pinch of salt, exercise patience and their true intentions will play out.

Rejection also breeds bitterness which can consume you, and it often takes the form of blame games and pointing fingers. You blame the system, messengers, contacts past and present- everybody and everything apart from yourself. Always strive to remain focused with your eyes wide open; stay safe at the center of both extremes.

Take stock of the lessons

The natural reaction towards rejection is to retain the positives and explain away the shortcomings. It is common sense to learn from mistakes; but very few practically do it. Criticism and negative feedback in relation to your work should be noted, taken seriously and corrected.

This is how talent and skills are sharpened.

The most successful artists, writers, composers, producers never immerse themselves in self-confidence. They question their work at every stage of the creative process; write, rewrite and polish several aspects many times over. Ignorance creates a false sense of comfort and security, which is dangerous.

It is better to be told to your face your work is terrible, than to have your ego massaged and ascertain the irrefutable truth later.

Never blame the person who rejects your work, always assume they are right, which is the correct attitude to spur growth.

It is human and acceptable to be frustrated, do not attempt to bury or deny a negative feeling. Find an avenue to vent; the gym, talk to friends, family, take a break or whatever works best for you.

Then, resume your calling with the winning formula; a cool, calm and collected mindset.

Lady Gaga was fired by her record label just 3 months into her contract

Lady Gaga was fired by her record label just 3 months into her contract

Industry players who triumphed despite rejection

A casting director once told Sidney Poitier to stop wasting everybody’s time trying to act, and suggested he should go and wash dishes ‘or something.’ Poitier used the remarks as motivation to prove him wrong.

He went on to bag an Oscar and become one of the most respected and accomplished actor’s in the industry.

Stephen King’s first thriller, Carrie, was rejected a record 30 times! King was so annoyed; he threw the manuscript in the bin and quit writing. His wife retrieved it, begged, implored and encouraged him to submit it again; the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1954, a young and unknown Elvis Presley was fired by Jimmy Denny, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry, after a single performance. He went a step further and assured Elvis he was on the road to nowhere, and should seriously consider going back to driving trucks.

Elvis disregarded the free advice and went on to become one of the best-selling artists in history.

When the Beatles were starting out, a record company executive told them the sound of their music was horrible, and guitar music had no future.

The Beatles became the most influential band in music history, are still extremely popular today, and continue to attract a cult following.

Def Jam Records fired Lady Gaga only three months into her contract in 2006.

She went on to win 12 Grammy’s, sell 124 million records (by 2014), enter the Guinness Book of World Records and Hall of Fame, witness five subsequent albums debut at number 1 on Billboard, among several other achievements.

All the above entertainment industry success stories, and many others, faced rejection first-hand; but it is clearly evident, the world thought otherwise.

Any one of them could be you.

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