Deejay Mash has worked in the entertainment industry for over 20 years. He is also a consultant, event planner, writer, and researcher.
In Entertainment, Rejection Is the Norm
No industry in the world can match the high rejection rate found in the entertainment business. 99% rejection, 1% acceptance seems to be the norm. The industry is hardwired 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, creatives grow thick skins; 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 their 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 but 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. They need to deliver 100% success. It leaves them mentally, emotionally, and physically drained with no time or energy left to even pretend to play nice.
In this article, we explore the concept of rejection in industries like film, music, and modeling. Learn how the rejection system operates, how rejection can affect you psychologically, and what you can do to handle the inevitable.
- 3 Tips for Handling Rejection as an Entertainer
- What Are the Psychological Effects of Rejection on a Creative?
- What Sorts of People Get Into the Entertainment Industry?
- How Does the Rejection System Work?
- Industry Players Who Triumphed Despite Rejection
3 Tips for Handling Rejection as an Entertainer
Given the massive psychological toll rejection can take on creators and performers (and the ubiquity of rejection in the industry), it's crucial that those in entertainment develop resilience and incorporate healthy coping strategies into their routines. Here are three helpful tips to keep at the forefront of your mind as you continue to experience rejection in your career.
1. Remember It's Not Personal—It's Just Business
Rampant rejections are not personal attacks. Consider them business decisions; that's what they are, and it hurts less to think of them that way. 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 may fall into place. Often, those who reject you initially are the same people who will grant you an opportunity later. Thank people for their time and stay in their network. 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 goalposts 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; when doors begin to open, the outlook changes.
2. Toss Naivety and Bitterness Out the Window
As a newbie in the industry, a lot of players might to praise your work and tell you exactly what you want to hear. Facing rejection soon after this praise can be difficult. Others might attempt to take advantage of inexperience and gullibility.
Never rush; good things take time. Accept the praise with a pinch of salt, exercise patience, and wait for people's true intentions to become apparent.
Rejection breeds a bitterness that can consume you, and it often takes the form of blame games and finger-pointing. 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.
3. Take Stock of Lessons and Criticisms and Allow Them to Improve Your Work
The natural reaction to rejection is to defend one's positive attributes and explain away one's shortcomings. It is common sense to learn from mistakes, but very few people actually do. Criticism and negative feedback in relation to your work should be noted, taken seriously, and corrected. That is how talent and skills are sharpened.
The most successful artists, writers, composers, and producers never immerse themselves in self-confidence. They question their work at every stage of the creative process; they write, rewrite, and polish many times over. Ignorance creates a false sense of comfort and security, which can be dangerous.
It is better to be told to your face that your work is terrible than to have your ego massaged only to discover the irrefutable truth later. Never blame the person who rejects your work. Always assume they are right; this is the correct attitude to spur growth.
It is human and acceptable to be frustrated, so do not attempt to bury or deny a negative feeling. Find an avenue to vent—go to the gym, talk to friends and family, take a break, or do whatever works best for you. Then, resume your calling with the winning formula—a cool, calm, and collected mindset.
What Are the Psychological Effects of Rejection on a Creative?
Fear of rejection is deeply ingrained in human nature. During prehistoric times, humans survived by cooperating socially in tribal groups. If the tribe rejected a member, it meant imminent death. No member could survive alone without the support of the tribe. The desire to fit in and be accepted and liked by others in the community is a survival instinct that has never left us.
The word 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 years, adulthood, and old age—studies show creatives take rejection 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 they invest in the course of their creative journies.
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 part associated with reward, addiction withdrawal symptoms, and motivation.
A rejection response is equivalent in some ways to going through a nasty breakup, especially if heavy emotional and financial investments were involved. When the positive outcome that was anticipated doesn't come to fruition, the mental withdrawal that results from the shattering of hope becomes extremely difficult to process. Rejection, especially after lots of hard work and creativity, can feel somewhat like the 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 began to whine.
Constant rejection can result in a creative losing hope, and once this happens, the fear of taking risks can become overwhelming. The mind may resolve that regardless of the project one comes up with, it will most probably be rejected.
Pessimism, anger, resentment, and cynicism can set in and may lead to rants on social media or complaints to friends and family instead of tangible remedial action. This is a recipe for depression.
What Sorts of People Get Into the Entertainment Industry?
Most people perceive careers in entertainment as glamorous, sexy, high-paying adventures that lead to fame. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, and this abundance of interest attracts all sorts of people. Some who get into entertainment are among the world’s best creative minds. Others enter the industry for 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, they would 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.
How Does the Rejection System Work?
Due to the massive number of joyriders and status-seekers in the game, the industry turns to the attrition system to weed out busybodies. 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.
Within entertainment are some 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 sidestep the attrition system never get far.
Another reason why the rejection rate is so high in entertainment is that the industry has so many creatives playing very similar roles, yet the decision-makers are very few. For example, movie screenwriters outnumber film studios astronomically; musicians massively outnumber music production houses. Therefore, the odds of rejection are tremendous.
Industry Players Who Triumphed Despite Rejection
Every single successful performer, artist, musician, writer, and actor you idolize has dealt with rejection more times than you could count. What makes them different is that kept trying. They incorporated criticism and feedback, and they didn't accept defeat simply because they were turned away time and time again. Here are some examples of extremely successful entertainers who used rejection to find success.
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 and set out to prove him wrong. He went on to bag an Oscar and become one of the most respected and accomplished actors in the industry.
Stephen King’s first thriller, Carrie, was rejected a record 30 times! King was so annoyed that he threw the manuscript in the bin and quit writing. His wife retrieved it then implored 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 that guitar music had no future. The Beatles became the most influential band in music history and are still extremely popular today.
Def Jam Records fired Lady Gaga only three months into her contract in 2006. She went on to win 12 Grammys, sell 124 million records by 2014, enter the Guinness Book of World Records and Hall of Fame, and watch five subsequent albums debut at number 1 on Billboard, among other achievements.
All of the above entertainers and many others faced rejection head first. All of them went on to become some of the best in the world. Any one of them could be you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.