How to Turn Rejection into Opportunity in the Creative Industry

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Image by upklyak on Freepik

Walt Disney relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1920s to try his hand at acting after his first cartoon venture failed. Walt also failed in this endeavour, but he did produce Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, in what would eventually become Mickey Mouse.

Beginning in the late 1920s, he produced Mickey Mouse for the first time on film after having his infamous mouse rejected 300 times, enduring years of eating beans and accruing debt. He earned his way back to the top of his industry as a result.

Despite the success of Mickey Mouse, Walt, who was under pressure from the film industry to remain on the big screen, learned to diversify his business by moving to television. His venture paid off. Walt was able to raise enough money to start his biggest project yet – Disneyland, thanks to the popularity of TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Davy Crockett…the rest is history.

Rejection is a part of life, and it's especially true in the creative industry. Whether you're a writer, artist, or musician, you're going to face rejection whether you like it or not.

It doesn't matter how many times you get rejected. It matters how you respond to it. If there's a page we can take off of Walt Disney's life story, it is this – he stayed true to his vision, kept moving forward and persevered.

Don’t let rejection define your self-worth


Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Rejection can come for any number of reasons, some of which may be entirely out of our control. Perhaps you weren't the best candidate for the position, or the timing wasn't right, or the agencies you're contacting aren't the best fit for your niche.

Whatever the reason for the rejection, it's unlikely to be a personal issue unless you're specifically told it is. So, take comfort in knowing that rejection isn’t personal. It is not a reflection of your worth as a person, and it does not mean that you are not good enough. Rejection is simply a response to your work.

Assess where the rejection is coming from

There are significant differences between being rejected by a renowned design agency and a random person rejecting a leaflet. I know you would agree with me, if I say that these differences have an impact on how you perceive the rejection.

To asses where the rejection is coming from, try to get into the other person’s shoes to find out the reasoning behind the rejection. It's one thing if they are speaking in an effort to help. But if the person rejecting you is deliberately doing it to lower your spirits, they might be coming from a place of jealousy. If that’s the case, they are not worth your time and attention.

Take note of the rejection patterns

You might also want to pay attention if you're receiving the same feedback over and over again. We're talking something more specific here than a mere and repeated ‘no’.

Was it bad timing when you contacted your client or design agency that you got the rejection? Had they grown tired of you after months of pestering them? Can you do anything about it? Can you try different approaches with your creative work?

If you feel like your creative output has plateaued or you keep getting the same rejection, it may be time for change.

Rejection can inspire you to be more creative and successful


Image by upklyak on Freepik

Rather than spending too much time dwelling on the hurt of being rejected, think about the freedom you now have to explore new possibilities.

Throughout my freelance career, I've received plenty of rejection. These "rejections" helped me realize that I wasn't really looking for commercial projects clients were offering, but rather a sense of community with others who shared my interests.

Since then, I quit my freelance job as a digital designer in order to focus full-time on building my startup's creative community and collaborating with other creatives.

Similarly, can you add anything else that will give your work more zeal and passion? Or can you cut out a component of your work that you are not as passionate about?

Suffice to say, you can harness your rejection related emotions and channel them for success. Successful athletes, entrepreneurs and creatives from every walk of life share this powerful trait.

Use rejections to help you move forward, but resist becoming vengeful. Like Walt Disney, always remain humble but driven.

"All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all the troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you." – Walt Disney

Writer bio*

Hazel Lee is a creative entrepreneur who founded YDJ, a startup dedicated to providing more noticeable brand and online presence for artists and designers.

She offers digital marketing and lots of inspiring online resources for creatives on the YDJ Blog.

She is also an advocate for climate action. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.


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