Rejection Recovery Resilience

“Rejection is the one constant of human experience.” Howard Jacobson 

The world has always been a challenging place, and perhaps now more than ever, as people try to cope with fast paced and unpredictable change. Times of uncertainty bring about difficult times, and oftentimes limited resources, leading to rejections.

Resilience is the quality that will help you survive. Building your resilience involves developing and maintaining habits of thinking and doing, which help you not just to survive in difficult times, but to come through the adversity knowing yourself better, and being wiser and more focussed on what is most important to you. 

This gives you the ability to recover, to bounce back from tough times and to display tenacity.

Let me share stories from the world of the performing arts to demonstrate how three actors used the Three Ps, Persistence, Passion and Purpose, to survive rejection, build resilience in allowing them to recover, and to push through their WorkLife obstacles.

A Case Study

Denise Gough’s Story: It Took Ten Years to Receive the Critics Award for Most Promising Newcomer

In 2016 I saw the actress Denise Gough give what has been credited as the West End performance of the year in People Places and Things. She went on to win the Laurence Oliver Award for best actress. I read afterwards that in 2012, when she received the Critics’ Award for Most Promising Newcomer, she respectfully said she had been around for ten years. Despite the award, she then went on to have a period of one year before People Places and Things, where she had no work. She applied for and did not get a cleaning job, and was about to give up on her dream when it finally happened for her.

Was it a lucky break? No, it was sheer persistence, determination, a lot of pulling herself back up, and staying true to her passion, and purpose.

A Case Study

My Story: Actors Don’t Take Criticism Very Well Do They? And Sir Anthony Sher’s Story “Don’t Give Up Your Day Job”.

I was at an event and in answering the inevitable “so what do you do?” question, I said I work with a team of actors, bringing techniques, structure and methods of theatre making to WorkLife learning and development. 

The comment I received in response was: “Actors don’t take criticism very well, do they?” I do not know where that came from. I certainly did not see it coming! I was extremely irked, but somehow managed to remain calm in my response in saying that one actor throughout their initial three-year drama school training will receive more critique than the 80+ people in this room together receive in their entire WorkLife, and that it does not stop there.

I went on to share a story about Sir Anthony Sher, who I had recently seen play the lead role in Death of a Salesman in the West End. His performance was phenomenal, and without exception the entire auditorium was on its feet for the final curtain call. His performance earned him five-star reviews. Shortly afterwards I read an interview he did with the Guardian newspaper, where in response to the question “If there was one thing you would change about your appearance, what would it be?” he answered, “Everything”. I was saddened by this because no matter how good actors are, the critique will continue. If they cannot be critiqued on their performance, they will be critiqued for their appearance. When it comes to actors, the whole world are critics. 

In the interview when Sir Anthony was asked “What was the worst thing anyone said to you?”, his reply was: “When I auditioned at RADA they urged me to seek a different career, and not to give up my day job.” Thankfully for him (and us) he followed his heart, and has since been knighted for his contribution to the Arts. He was also asked “what book changed his life”, and he replied: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare because it led him to the RSC, which allowed him to fulfil a dream he held since a young boy”.

A Case Study

Vince Vaughan’s Story: Rejected for his Height 

I listened to Vince Vaughan in conversation with Tim Ferriss on the Tim Ferriss podcast. He spoke about how he would be rejected for his height, saying that he had to find a way of using it, so that he would not be defined by it. He spoke about it being second nature for actors to be turned down.

He spoke about the time and energy spent preparing for auditions, and when it did not pan out, how at first he would be down, and would take four or five days, and not do anything, and say this is not working and would lose his energy.  

He went on to talk about finding a process where you allow yourself to feel disappointed. It is important not to turn off those feelings, but it is important to understand how to do that as quickly as possible to then become productive again, and start doing the things that are going to give you a better opportunity. He said the sooner you can get back to your own growth, and what can enhance it, the sooner the chance of having what you want in your life becomes greater. 

He said the opportunities of being exposed to failure in auditions inaugurates you in that you develop a tolerance for rejection that allows you to capitalise later. He went on to say that the other side is once you have had a level of success, you can maintain the motivation you once had. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Rejections are hard, that is a fact. Do not accept the first rejection ever, or the second, or the third. Give yourself options, but at your own pace. You are not in competition with anybody but yourself.

When actors audition for roles, they can never second guess what the casting agent is looking for. They are given the script often with little direction. They prepare their character portrayal, and deliver their performance based on what they can glean from the script. Whether or not they get the role, if they can walk away knowing they have given a performance true to their interpretation of the character, this is good enough. 

That said, they will also consider what they can learn from the experience with regard to what they could have done differently or better. That is because there is always something to learn about ourselves in every situation, and we should always try to learn.

Watch the Watcher Assignment

In chapter 9 you worked on developing your power of observation, beginning by taking something that happened during your day, then replaying it in your mind and being observant of yourself, along with everything else that was going on around you in that moment. You then worked to develop this by being more observant as you went about your daily life. This demanded that you were fully present in the moment to notice what was going on within yourself, and around you.

Watch the Watcher will allow you to develop your power of observation even more strongly. 

Begin by taking a moment from an experience or situation where you were rejected. For an actor this may be from an audition, from a role they auditioned for. For you it could be from an interview or from a presentation.

Now replay that moment in your mind:

Begin by observing yourself, what was going on within you, and what was going on around you.

Next shift your focus to the person or people who were watching/observing you. Watch/observe what is going on within them, and around them. Of course, you have no way of knowing for sure, however you can learn to read people through what they say, what they do not say, and through their body language and facial expressions.

To develop this even further, become observant in the moment by watching the watcher.  For actors this may be another audition. For you it may be an interview or presentation.  The great thing is, you will have prepared really well for this; and so being observant, Watching the Watcher will actually be quite easy.

Draw on the information you have observed, acknowledge what you did well, acknowledge what you could have done better, then move on. 

Learning from your experience, acknowledging how being rejected made you feel. Then picking yourself back up as quickly as you can will support your recovery, and help you to build your resilience.  

Moral of this Story

The fear of rejection can stop people, if you are afraid of a No it can keep you from taking a risk. The key to not fearing rejection is to never reject yourself, not to take the rejection personally; and yes, I know that is hard, because it can sure feel personal. These stories demonstrate that if you follow your dream, believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who believe in you too, you can overcome rejection, become resilient, recover, and become stronger in your resolve to achieve what is truly important to you.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

This is the time to reframe any negative feedback you give yourself. For example, in the case of actors, instead of saying, “I could have done better if only I’d done x,” they can change it to say, “Oh that’s not a fit for the audience they’re targeting, but I am a fit for other audiences, and I’m not rejecting myself as a bad actor because I got a no.” 

Adapting this to your situation is how you free yourself from that fear. In doing this you are rejecting the negative feedback, and you are accepting yourself.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

If the rejection came from doing something you love, then think about what it is that caused that rejection, and work to better understand how to present your best possible self when you try again. Simply ask yourself:

What could I have done better?

Words of Wisdom 

How you rebound from setbacks speaks volumes about who you are. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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