It arrived by email at 7.15pm. Imagine that: Friday, December 18, for many the final working Friday of 2020. That day, at 7.15pm, someone on the other end of a decision making process hit send on a rejection email. I don’t envy them.
You read that correctly. My sympathies lie with the sender of the rejection. I am even a little grateful to them: here’s why.
Let me take you back a few months and I’m watching The Last Dance, a gripping Netflix documentary about the greatest basketball player who ever lived. Michael Jordan is explaining how he was defined by his failures.
Getting cut from his high school basketball team, not being picked first in the NBA draft; it’s all an indelible part of the DNA of the Greatest.
Watching The Last Dance, I realise Jordan’s spirit has defined me. I was a little obsessed with basketball as a teenager, despite lacking any physical attributes that would have made me suitable for the game. Built like a rugby union hooker I might be, but it was basketball that seduced me.
My obsession was inspired in part by Jordan and his preternatural reserves of perseverance. His rejection from his high school team was a vital part of the fuel that fired him, his need to prove the doubters wrong consumed him.
Watching The Last Dance, I realised it’s a formula that also works to motivate me.
A professional life in the creative arts is full of the two impostors – rejection and success. I had my share of both in 2020, but it’s the rejections that fire me up.
So to all creatives, here’s my first gift of 2021 to you: find your fuel. Maybe, like me, rejection is the thing that drives you.
Perhaps it’s something far healthier, like a good walk or a supportive network of peers. If that’s the case, congratulations on being better adjusted than I am, and I hope you find more of it this year.
The path of a creative career is filled with ‘No’ and already, one week into a new year, it’s looking like disappointment and rejection are going to be in as plentiful supply in 2021 for the arts sector, as they were last year.
In the face of such disappointment my message is: don’t crumble. Use it to fill your engine and power your way forward. It worked for Michael Jordan.
Like I said: rejection is a hell of a drug. Resilience ain’t too bad either.