Robert De Niro recently gave a commencement speech to the 2015 Tisch School of the Arts graduating class in NYC. It’s full of tongue in cheek cynicism, and well worth a watch… There are many amusing moments, but also some really poignant ones, particularly about rejection.
Rejection is an inevitable part of any performance career, and there is no doubt that it stings! It’s not unreasonable to want to have a little cry if you are disappointed by an audition - you may even mope around the house for a day or so in your PJs watching Friends reruns… but there are some reactions to rejection that will help you move forward, and others that, in the long run will only do you harm.
Here are some things you don't want to do:
Don’t make it about you
As De Niro says in this speech: “Rejection. It isn't personal”. Rejection might hurt, but it rarely has anything to do with you. It’s easy to think that rejection means that you weren't good enough, or that they didn't like you as a person, but most of the time it has nothing to do with you! Most of the time, they were just looking for something else (taller, different hair colour, different sound) or there may have been a whole host of political reasons or other mitigating factors: things you have absolutely no knowledge of, and no control over. Somebody once said to me “They wanted blue and I am green” and I think this sums it up perfectly. What can you possibly hope to gain from beating yourself up over factors that have nothing to do with how well you performed, and are completely out of your control?
Don’t stay down
“Inside the ring or out, there is nothing wrong with going down, it’s staying down that’s wrong.”
Another great piece of advice from De Niro: “You didn't get that part? Next!” It’s simple, but effective. There is no changing what happened, so what can possibly be gained from dwelling on it? After all, what would happen if you got every audition that you went for? Would you actually be able to do them all? Would they all be right for you? Auditioning is as much about learning how to audition and going through the ‘failures’ so that you can get ready for the ones that are right for you. ‘Next’ is a great mantra for everyone in the performing arts. After all, what are you really going to get out of dwelling on your perceived failures? Is it going to change anything? Is it going to help with the next audition (aside from obviously having a little think about what you would like to do differently next time; there is always room to improve!)? If it’s going to take 100 bad auditions to get to a good one - better to start ticking them off right away! Every ‘rejection’ brings you one closer to ‘success’.
“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Don’t assume the worst
"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” Randy Pausch
When things don’t go as well as we’d like, it’s easy to assume we aren’t good enough, that we have ‘failed’ (irreparably!) and that we will never make it, and end up living out of a cardboard box, surviving on hand outs. Catastrophising (that’s what this is!) is never a useful technique, and it’s important to stop yourself if you notice you are going down this route. Be kind to yourself, and take the time to remind yourself of all the things you do really well. Write down all the thoughts you are having (they seem more ridiculous when you see them in writing!) and then act as your own voice of reason.
Don’t equate current success with future potential
The idea of an overnight success is a myth! Real success takes skill, but skill doesn't develop overnight, and it doesn’t happen without failure. As Michael Jordan once said:
"I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game's winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
He is certainly not the first famous name to face failure, check out all these examples:
“If you are going through hell - keep going!”
Failing the right way
And before you say it, I know - sometimes you just weren't good enough! This may be true, and if it is then at least you know they made the right decision! But what are you going to do about it? If you know you could have done better, that there was something you did that affected the outcome, then you have a choice:
Ultimately, it’s a choice - it’s your prerogative to not leave the house for a week and beat yourself up about not being good enough… but is it going to help you? Will you perform better next time thinking that there is something wrong with you, or that you'll never make it?
You will experience rejection - I’d feel sorry for you if you didn’t because it would mean that you aren't pushing your limits, and hence you’re not developing or improving - but how you approach it will make all the difference. As Michelangelo said:
"The greatest danger is not that your hopes are too high and you fail to reach them, but they are too low, and you do!"