Whether it’s a remark from an audience member, a ‘no’ at an audition, a turndown from a publisher or a gallery owner, criticism and rejection are part of life for actors and other artists.
This article includes quotes from actors, writers and other artists, plus psychologists and therapists on this common experience of rejection – and how to better deal with it.
Sarah Paulson comments about how much we may crave recognition – which can lead to our vulnerability to rejection.
“Everybody wants your mate to see you; you want your work to be recognized as something truthful and good, and people want to be seen.
“You want to feel that you matter and that you count, and when you’re constantly being told ‘No no no’ and that your work isn’t speaking to anyone, or nothing you’re doing is making a difference to anyone…”
This is from an Off Camera with Sam Jones video interview, Jun 1, 2018:
Sandra Oh has commented about this:
“We actors, we’re a fragile bunch, and yet we need to be strong because 90% of our lives is rejection.
“You have to figure out what really is important.”
(From imdb – photo from Killing Eve, 2018)
Psychotherapist Mihaela Ivan Holtz helps creative people in TV/Film, performing and fine arts.
She writes about the emotional and creative pleasures of their inner life – and its challenges – on her site Creative Minds Psychotherapy.
In one of her articles on her site, she notes:
“Normal fears that took you to a painful emotional place as a child can hold you now hostage as an adult.
“These unhealed experiences of the past can turn your normal and everyday fears into unhealthy fears that control you.
“Fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of being shamed… they are all normal fears that can interfere with your creativity when they are turned from normal into paralyzing fears, freezing instead of energizing your creativity.”
But, she adds, “you can find comfort in your fears, connect with your courage, and reclaim your creativity.”
From her article Creativity is Courage!.
In another article, she writes:
“Rejection lurks around every corner in the arts world. In fact, for you, the creative or the performer, knowing how to tolerate, be with, and work with rejection is almost a career requirement!
“Even if rejection hurts, you can learn how to turn in your favor.
“Rejection can actually guide you to find your true place in the world and in your art.”
Read more of her perspectives in my article Dealing with our fear of rejection.
Almost gave up acting due to criticism and rejection
Writer Glenn Whipp notes in an article that Nicole Kidman “says she almost gave up acting a few years ago, following a disappointing time of making films such as “The Railway Man,” “Trespass” and “Before I Go to Sleep,” movies that were barely seen and, aside from Kidman’s acting, harshly reviewed.”
He adds, “The low point came at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival when the audience greeted her Grace Kelly homage “Grace of Monaco” with boos and hisses.
“Kidman sobbed in her hotel room.”
She says, “It’s probably not great to talk about when you’re old, but you start out as flavor of the month and then you’re not; you have some things that work and some that don’t, and suddenly no one’s interested.
“Then it’s, ‘You’ve squandered or lost your talent.’ And that’s not true. It’s always there if you’re nourishing it.
“And that’s what I was doing. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating.”
Nicole Kidman almost gave up acting. She stars in three movies this month By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times Dec 13, 2018.
Most creators need to risk criticism and rejection to get their project seen or realized.
Stephen King relates an early experience that affected his writing and acceptance of himself as a writer – the kind of experience probably most of us have had to some degree.
“‘What I don’t understand, Stevie,’ [my high school teacher] said, ‘is why you’d write junk like this… You’re talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?’ …
“I was ashamed.”
King goes on to admit [in his book “On Writing“]: “I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write.
“I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
From my article Creative and rejected: Stephen King and others.
Being intense, highly sensitive and/or gifted may increase our vulnerability to rejection.
Psychologist Elaine Aron addresses this in an article of hers; here is an excerpt
The young man went on to describe weekend after weekend in the library, looking out the window and watching other students going out to “waste time”– and to learn skills he knew he lacked, to enjoy the special moments of college life that he had now lost, and just to have friends.
I don’t know why he made the choices he did, but I’m sure plenty of adults were delighted with his achievements, starting in kindergarten if not before.
Yet it seemed that the project almost broke his heart. I’m sure none of the adults wanted that for him.
Not that this student’s social life would have necessarily been all fun.
Again, gifted children are often rejected by others, and they can be as hurt by social rejection as anyone. In fact, more so.
From article Growing Up Gifted Is Not Easy by Elaine Aron, PhD.
Amanda Abbington comments on rejection as part of an actor’s life:
“I was watching The X Factor the other day and I was thinking: you have no idea of rejection. This is the first thing you’ve done.
“You’ve wanted it all your life? Yeah, all your 16 years.
“Be an actor. Be an actor for about two years and see how that goes, because it’s constant.
“The number of jobs that you get as a ratio to the number of times you are rejected is incredible.
(From her imdb profile.)
Jessica Chastain, even after graduating from Juilliard, “was auditioning 6 times a day, and not booking a single thing,” an article notes.
“I would go to movement class every day. I found a donation-based yoga studio because I had no money and did yoga every day.
“I would go to the public library and research plays…. If you don’t show up prepared, that’s it.
“This isn’t the kind of business where if you mess up many times they’ll still cast you.
“If you do something every single day that makes you an actor, you are an actor.”
Jon Hamm talked about the kind of critical inner voice we may experience before even attempting to get cast for a role, or put our creative work forward in other ways.
This inner critic can show up when we try to get a music gig, a book deal, magazine writing assignment – there are different sorts of auditions for creative people.
Hamm said “I knew that I had some sort of baseline of talent, ability, and chutzpah and confidence.
“But then knowing how to get anyone to pay attention is the big mystery.
“So I just kept auditioning. I kept showing up and I kept trying.
“And I kept trying to push down the voice that was saying, ‘You’re terrible. Someone’s better than you.
“They’re going to give the part to the other guy.’ And elevate the part of me that said, like, ‘You’re worth it. You should be here.’”
Quotes by Jessica Chastain and Jon Hamm are from article How to Deal with Rejection as an Actor by Indiana Kwong, Stage Milk Oct 12 2017.
Author Dani Shapiro quotes from the essay “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years” by Ted Solotaroff, in which he comments about so many talented writers disappearing.
“It doesn’t appear to be a matter of talent itself,” he wrote.
“Some of the most natural writers, the ones who seemed to shake their prose or poetry out of their sleeves, are among the disappeared.
“As far as I can tell, the decisive factor is what I call endurability: that is, the ability to deal effectively with uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment, from within as well as from without.”
A need for persistence and resilience to succeed
Writer Rachel Simon notes, “Tenacity has always been a primary theme in the lives of successful writers: some historians believe that Plato rewrote the first sentence of The Republic fifty times; Virgil needed ten years to write the Aeneid; Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, which itself required five years of work, was not even begun until Flaubert had written, and discarded, two other novels…
“James Joyce’s Ulysses took eight years to write, and countless rejections to get published.
“Ernest Hemingway rewrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms almost forty times…”
From my article Writers and achievement: endurability and tenacity, not just talent.
Claire Danes on wanting acceptance
Danes admits that when she was growing up, she “wanted desperately to please, to be a good girl.
“I wanted acceptance. I still do.”
Like many artists, she sought acceptance in renown:
“A part of me desired fame because I associated it with love.
“That was a total mistake. Fame doesn’t end loneliness… I chose a public role, and it’s illusory to think that fame immunizes you from rejection.
“Famous or not, you can still feel invalid and unloved.”
Acting, she has found, has other payoffs.
“We’re all on an emotional journey with each other. And the point of acting is to share, to connect.
“That’s why I act. Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” [Parade mag. Oct 2, 2005.]
Danes has also brought attention to the issue of body shaming in the media – another source of feelings of rejection.
Another magazine reports that “she told People that she thought she and her good friend Lena Dunham were ‘criticized for having different body types—I was too skinny, and she was too big…. I feel like my body is…commented on infinitely more than my male counterpart.’
“It’s just so ingrained in us, the idea that we should take up the right amount of space, literally and figuratively,” Danes says.
“I’ve wrestled with this my whole life, as just a person in the world and as somebody who makes images. It’s OK to want to look and feel your best. It’s OK to work at being attractive, whatever that means to you.
“And it’s also OK to not expect to be defined by that. It’s OK to be powerful in every way: to be big, to take up space. To breathe and thrive.”
From Claire Danes’s Explanation of Body Shaming in Hollywood Is Refreshing by Brooke Hauser, Allure, November 16, 2015.
Dealing with criticism
In her article 10 Tools for Dealing with Criticism and Rejection, writer and coach Linda Dessau notes:
“Whether it’s feedback we’ve asked for, an unsolicited remark called out from the audience or a simple ‘no’ result of an audition or submission process, criticism and rejection are a huge part of our lives as creative artists.
“Sometimes we’re so fearful of being criticized or rejected that we keep our creativity bottled up and don’t let it out.”
Discouraged from trying
But discouragement may come from other people in entertainment who really should be more supportive.
In her Talk Back post, “Only Serious Actors Need Apply” (BackStage Jul 27-Aug 2, 2006), actor, writer, comedian and filmmaker Maria Menozzi noted that casting directors, teachers and even fellow actors are often negative about pursuing the dream to be an actor.
“This is the only business I know of in which people are outright discouraged from trying or continuing,” she wrote. “I have spent thousands of dollars on classes, coaching, workshops, pictures…
“I’ve been rejected, rejected, refused, and ignored – and did I mention rejected? But I have persisted, practiced, and persevered… I am an actor, and I plan on stickin’ it out for quite some time.”
“I think all great innovations are built on rejections.” – Artist Louise Nevelson
(Photo is from my article Creative Thinking Without Thinking.)
Therapist Sharon M. Barnes works with creative, sensitive, intense, intelligent children, teens and adults.
She writes in a post of hers:
“There’s a subtle but real perception that by virtue of your being who you are as a creative, highly sensitive or highly intelligent human, you have committed the Original Sin.
“That is, you are a unique human being rather than a cookie-cutter replica of everyone else.
“It takes a radical kind of self-love and self-acceptance to overcome this cultural rejection of your very personhood.”
From “What Can a Creative Sensitive or Gifted Person Do When You Don’t Feel Grateful”, Nov 19, 2017.
See the blog section of her site therapistforsensitiveandgifted.com.
Also see article about her home-study
Emotional Health Program for Creative, Gifted, Sensitive People
Gifted, sensitive and creative people “can cope with their intense feelings, and transform their perceived deep defects into their greatest gifts which will enable them to make a unique, creative contribution to the world.”
How do you respond to rejection?
Kristin Neff, PhD notes that the ‘typical way’ of motivating ourselves is harsh self-criticism, but research shows this leads to a fear of failure, performance anxiety and other problems that can hold us back.
Dr. Neff says,
“We know through the research that when we’re very hard on ourselves when we make a mistake, or fail in some way, we start becoming afraid of failure, and we start developing performance anxiety.
“We don’t do as well so we fail more often, we start losing confidence in ourselves and therefore we’re more likely just to give up.”
Read more and see videos in article
The Power of Self-Compassion
Being aware of negative messages – from both others and ourselves – plus being careful to keep encouraging a healthy self concept are among the ways to stay resilient, so rejection does not have to be so crippling or corrosive.
Related article: Rejection – does it defeat you or fuel you?
Also see Self-esteem Products / Programs.