Nobody enjoys the sting of rejection.
And in these uncertain times, with unemployment on the rise and Australia’s creative industries in limbo, hearing “no” to your job application, book proposal or audition tape can hit particularly hard.
But for those lucky enough to receive constructive feedback — or brave enough to ask for it — rejection can come with a silver lining.
“The word ‘no’ can be an opportunity for you to learn something,” says Jane Jackson, a career management coach and author of Navigating Career Crossroads.
“It can actually give you the opportunity to better yourself.”
We asked three creative Australians to share the surprising lessons they’ve learned from rejection.
Constructive criticism can be the best type of ‘tough love’
To most people performing in the public eye, a negative review is the stuff of nightmares.
But for stand-up comedian Ben Darsow, from Adelaide, some straight-shooting remarks from a reviewer made him better at his craft.
In 2010, when he was transitioning into a professional career in comedy, a friend of his — who is a well-respected comedy producer and reviewer — emailed him with feedback after watching his Adelaide Fringe show.
“She said she wasn’t going to publish a poor review of the show, but wanted to let me know privately that she thought I didn’t know who I was on stage and wasn’t applying myself diligently enough to my writing,” Ben says.
Fortunately, Ben was mature enough at the time to realise her email was intended as “tough love”, he adds.
“So I thanked her for it and took the advice on board.”
Ben has since gone from strength to strength as a comedian, performing stand-up in festival, club and corporate events and at top comedy clubs in the US, Canada, Malaysia and the UK.
And his friend the reviewer?
“She has since become an even closer friend and has helped open up a bunch of opportunities for me in the UK in particular, including plans to take on Edinburgh next year — international travel permitting!”
A ‘no’ can open the door to a future ‘yes’
Multi-award-winning author Trent Jamieson was disappointed when his first submission to publisher Orbit Australia was knocked back.
“I’d really gotten my hopes up as it took well over a year from submitting the first chapter to being asked for the rest of the book, and then it was a no,” the Brisbane-based author says.
But getting on the publisher’s radar opened the door to another opportunity.
The publisher “didn’t think the book was ready, but she asked if I had anything else”, he recalls.
It just so happened he did — so he sent it through.
Despite the initial rejection, the experience ultimately built his confidence.
“That sense of being treated seriously as a writer who, might [possibly] be capable of writing a saleable novel pushed me to work on the next book harder, which became my first published novel — Death Most Definite,” Trent says.
He’s now published dozens of short stories and six novels, is working on three more, and has just published his first children’s picture book, The Giant and the Sea.
“Oh, and I sold the other novel down the track: when it was ready.”
A ‘no’ can actually encourage you to keep trying
All noes are not equal, as Melbourne-based comedian Aurelia St Clair learned back in 2017 when she was first breaking into comedy.
Like many emerging comedians, she started out by regularly messaging room runners at comedy clubs to try to get a gig.
Most never wrote back at all.
But six months into Aurelia’s career, a room runner responded. It was still a rejection — but with a side of constructive criticism that pushed her to keep pushing herself.
“His reply was, ‘Thanks for sending the video, it’s very good, but you will probably need to tighten it up a bit more before it’s ready for the lounge. My advice would be keep working on your set and hassling me for spots and you’ll get there … keep up the good work’,” she recalls.
“I’d definitely say it was helpful because the message was encouraging.”
“Getting this response just meant I kept trying [and] working on my set and hassling people for spots.”
Aurelia has since performed in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2018 and 2019, the Melbourne Fringe Festival and Brisbane Funnyfest.
The expert view: Making the most of a rejection
Many rejection notes these days are automated and don’t include feedback — but even the dullest of those letters have a name and an email address you can use to your benefit, Ms Jackson says.
“So what you could do, if you were very brave, is you could follow up,” she says.
“Reach out to the person who emailed and say, ‘Thank you so much for the consideration, I enjoyed the interview very much. We seemed to have quite a strong rapport during the interview — would you have any feedback for me about how I could improve next time?'”
If your application, proposal or pitch was knocked back without so much as a meeting, you can still enquire about what would boost your chances next time.
“You could go back and say, ‘What can I adapt to make this more appealing to you? Are there any specific genres that you’re looking for right now?’,’ Ms Jackson says.
If they respond, that’s an opportunity to let them know if you’re working on something else that’s more tailored to their recommendations.
“Then at least you’ve kept the door open.”
Keep in mind that many recruiters are taught not to give individual feedback — so you won’t always receive a response.
But “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”, Ms Jackson says.
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