How to deal with failure and rejection in your career

by Brian O’Regan


1. You haven’t failed until you’ve quit.
Temporary setbacks are inevitable when you’re working towards something big, but unless you’ve stopped trying, then you haven’t failed. If something doesn’t work the first time (or the second or third time), try again. You haven’t failed yet.

2. Failure is something you can control.
If you can decide when you quit, then you can control when you fail. This is an empowering perspective, and it could help you get back on the proverbial horse when you fall off.

3. Rejection isn’t failure. It’s just someone else’s opinion, and you can’t control that.
Rejection is another inevitability when you’re pursuing a career in the creative sector. You can’t control rejection in the same way as you can control failure. Ask for feedback, learn from any mistakes you made (you might not have made any) and try again.

4. Focus your energy on what you can control.
When something goes wrong, think about what level of control you had over the outcome with these 3 questions…
● What did I have control over?
● What was I able to influence (partly control)?
● What did I have no control over?
Next time, focus on what you can control or influence, and don’t worry about what you can’t control.

5. Don’t take it personally.
As an artist/creative practitioner, your art may be very personal and very closely linked to your sense of self-worth. If your work gets rejected by someone, try not to take it as a personal rejection. Try to separate your sense of worth from your work, even if you’ve put your heart and soul into it.

6. Know when to quit, pivot, or change your approach.
How many times should you try something? That’s up to you, but don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. If something clearly isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something different. Sometimes quitting, or choosing to fail at something, is the right decision and it can free you up to focus on something else.

7. Don’t let a fear of failure stop you from trying.
Fear of failure is one of the root causes of procrastination, and over a long period of time, it can be far more debilitating than failure or rejection itself. Fear of failure can lock you into your comfort zone, but in order to learn and grow, you need to break out of it. Sometimes we fail because we’re too far out of our comfort zone, so try and take it one step at a time.

8. Use your support network to talk about your failures and rejections if you find it helpful.
Sometimes, talking about rejections or failures can help to soften the impact, and whomever you talk to will likely have their own stories to share as well. If you’d prefer not to talk to other people about it, try writing about it in a personal journal or even on a scrap of paper. Getting it off your chest can help you feel less isolated and can help you to move on.

9. Take the time to define success and reflect on setbacks.
Before you start something, define what “success” actually looks like. When setbacks occur, take the time to reflect constructively, but don’t dwell on them for too long. Remember what success looks like, think about what level of control/influence you had over the setback, and make a plan to move on.

10. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Whether you’re applying for funding, applying for jobs, or trying to find a publisher for your first book, try to always have another potential option in mind while waiting to hear about results or decisions. This may help you to deal with a rejection letter or an unsuccessful application, and could help you to move on to the next opportunity faster.