Coping with Rejection in the Creative World

In 2017’s The Incredible Jessica James, our protagonist – aspiring playwright Jessica – aggressively plasters her walls in theatre company rejection letters. In the bottom right hand corner her degree certificate is framed, glowing success contrasting rudely with the stern, formal tones ‘we regret to inform you…’. The scene echoes the reality for most creatives in the Twenty-First Century, even without the current pandemic and job crisis. Even before graduating, my days were filled with job-hunting and spreading myself thin over applications for internships, apprenticeships, work experience and catering jobs. I still have not mastered Linkedin or made a ‘professional’ Twitter.

As we wait for the crux of the film, when Jessica lands the dream job, with every job advert I read brings a swelling of hope that this will be it; my life will be transformed, I will be swept away into the glamorous working world of 6am wake ups, coffee breaks and handbags. But I would be doing something that I love, not something that I have to grit my teeth through and survive. Conversely, with every rejection that I pour over before swiftly deleting, I would like to say I get more determined, but I do not. I find myself rotating between bursts of energy and complete despair, trying to convince myself that twelve hour shifts with an hour commute when I do not drive is not that bad. Maybe I could listen to podcasts on the way. 

Looking back on it, I definitely revelled in the security of an undergraduate degree, with the feeling of hope and promise it brings at the end. To be thrown out into the real world, especially this year, just feels mean! Sometimes I have the fleeting thought that I should have listened those jokes made by a minority of my STEM peers about how our degrees are useless. I mean I now work for my local hospital – who would have thought it?

But Rishi Sunak is one of those bullies all grown up. He reminds us creatives that unless our talents, skills, knowledge can be monetised, (or be completely bulletproof in the face of a global pandemic), it is worthless. The blind ignorance that creative roles form the web of our days; when I switch on the radio in the morning, when I watch television in the evening, there are countless jobs stringing these things together. My friend Meg is in the costume industry, and to know how many people make up such a crucial part of a film or programme is to know how many jobs are on the line due to the pandemic.

Meg is more savvy than me and has started up a mask business during lockdown – if you need a mask, she’s your girl! These are the kinds of things Sunak missed the mark on: how necessary the arts are for our (new) daily essentials.

The title of this article is ‘coping with rejection’. I feel it would be false of me to advise you on how to cope with this, because it is safe to say I am not a role model for this. I have done enough of getting my hopes up, only to end up crying on the sofa with a glass of wine. I also will not give you tips on your job hunting; I’ve seen enough patronising articles entitled ‘6 Tips On Finding a Job in a Pandemic’ or ‘Make Your CV Pandemic-Proof’. There are a number of reasons why the majority of us are struggling to find our footing in the creative world, and taking these rejections personally, or to think that you are doing something wrong is to lose sight of the current chaos around us!

What I can say, and it has taken me a long time to realise this, but life, your identity, your skills, and your passions are not quantified by your career, and especially not when you are in your early 20s fresh out of uni. It seems simple now, but when you drown yourself in job applications everyday and spend all your time tracking rejection emails, you lose sight of what is important. When I look back to a few months ago, I see how deluded and confused I was, caught up in the idea that I needed a job to add value to my life. Everyone wants to do something that they enjoy, that is a given, and I am sure we will get there some day soon.

In the meantime, I am dropping the toxic productivity, deleting my job alerts, and taking care of myself for the rest of this year.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters

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