The Gift Of Rejection
Aug 23 2023
There’s nothing like a bit of rejection for helping us get clear about what we really want! Here is a story about how I recently received a rejection and a rundown of the OW to WOW process I put myself though (I should totally trade mark that!), which has helped me get clear about what I really want.
Trigger warning: my Inner Critic makes an appearance and he swears in capital letters.
Way back in the olden days of June, when I was hauled up in a swelteringly hot attic in the far east of France, reflecting back on my year at The Barn retreat centre and figuring out what to do next, a tasty job offer caught my attention. Gloucestershire-based ‘Strike A Light,’ were looking to employ three artists, one full time and two part time, for two and a half years, as part of their radical, experimental scheme, ‘Let Artists Be Artists’.
The call-out asked: “What would happen or change if you were employed for 2.5 years – if you could get off the project treadmill for a bit and pursue your artistic curiosity with more security and less pressure?” “Wow,” thought I, “What an opportunity! To have space and support to explore my artistic practice! A chance to reinvent myself steadily and sustainably! To not have to constantly chase funding or sell my services! To be affiliated with an organisation who’s principles I totally align with! To have an anchor in the South West of England! Oh what perfect timing! This is my job!!!”
I set about diligently describing my artistic process and proposing how I might involve the local community in the work I might make, feeling hopeful and excited as I hit send. They sent back a warm, friendly email saying they’d received over 300 applications and they’d get back to us in a few weeks to let us know if we’re through to round two. “There’s no way I won’t get through to round two, this is totally my gig!” thought I.
So imagine my surprise when a few weeks later, I received the “Thanks for your application, but unfortunately…” email.
Rejection! Like a dagger in my heart. “They don’t want me in their gang!”
My Inner Critic caught a whiff of the acrid smell of rejection and picked up his megaphone. “OF COURSE THEY DON’T WANT YOU IN THEIR GANG! YOU ARE SHIT! THEY COULD SEE THAT FROM YOUR APPLICATION! THEY WANT TO EMPLOY THREE INCREDIBLE ARTISTS, MAKING BOUNDARY-PUSHING WORK, NOT A WANKER LIKE YOU, WHO JUSTS WANKS ABOUT MAKING WANK. I MEAN YOU’RE NOT EVEN DOING THAT THESE DAYS, YOU’RE MOSTLY JUST SITTING AROUND STARING AT YOUR BELLY BUTTON.”
Ah, my good old friend the Critic, always first to the party, pouring petrol on the flames of self doubt, keeping me in my place, in a dark cupboard, where I am safe from any further rejection. How kind and thoughtful!
We’ve danced this dance so many times, my Critic and I, that I’m now (9 times out of 10) able to press pause, before I’m bundled into a solitary shame hole for days or weeks. In that pause I can reach all my tried and tested tools that can not only help me whether the shit storm, but actually extract gold from it.
And that’s just what I did, dear reader. I pressed pause. I felt and expressed my feelings, I tended to the little one inside me for whom rejection is actually the end of the world, I had a chat with my critic, I explored the needs I was hoping to get met and the needs that might not have got met through the job and distilled all this down to a clearly articulated wish list of what I’m really looking for.
I navigated the shit storm and turned shit to gold and heres how I did it….
OW to WOW - How To Mine Gold From Rejection
Now dear reader, I need to say before we begin that this was a pretty straightforward rejection. I didn’t already have a relationship with the people rejecting me and I always knew that there were many more options open to me. I know from my own experience that getting over a rejection is not always as simple as this! But I’m sharing my process in the hope that it might be useful to you.
Here follows my 6-part “OW to WOW” plan (urgh, now it just sounds cringe, sorry!), based on what I intuitively did for myself. Some parts might feel more helpful to you than others and you’re free to ignore or adapt any of my suggestions to suit your situation. If you’re experiencing a particularly stingy rejection, you might need to call in support from a friend, therapist or guide to help you process it. It’s not always easy to hold space for yourself to do this kind of work when you’ve been rejected, believe me, I know! Whatever’s happening for you, I wish you gentleness, courage and insight.
1.) Feel Your Feelings
Before you respond to the rejecter, get yourself somewhere safe and feel all your feelings. Let them rage inside you, let them tell you how much this hurts.
It’s unlikely that you’re going to be skilful in your communication while the feelings are raging. If, like me, you find yourself writing an email entirely in capital letters, DO NOT SEND IT! Take some space to tend to your feelings first!
Notice which parts of your body are activated when you feel these feelings. What does it feel like in those parts of your body?
Do these feelings have a colour? A sound? A movement? Are they hot or cold? Are there words?
I experienced a tight, black resin-like knot in my chest, felt my shoulders hunch and my jaw tighten and heard the familiar words, “Not Good Enough.”
If it feels too much for you to be with the feelings right now, take a pause and do something to bring the heat down and let your nervous system regulate. You could bring your awareness to the parts of your body connected with the ground and extend your in-breath and out-breath for a few cycles. Or you could go for a walk in nature, feeling your feet in contact with the ground and tuning into your senses to bring you into the here and now. Or you could use some other skilful distraction like shaking your body, cleaning part of your house, going for a swim, or phoning a friend. There’s some great advice inthis blog about how to handle the big feelings.
2.) Find Form For The Feelings
Draw, write, speak, shout, sing, move, dance, sculpt, find an object to represent the feeling.
Take the feelings outside of your body where you can see them more clearly and learn more about them.
What happens if you honour these feelings, instead of judging, suppressing or banishing them? What happens if you simply witness them with compassion and curiosity?
Imagining a lump of heavy black resin in my hand, I could sense its impenetrable solidness and shiny iridescence. I could see beauty and steadfastness in it and my heart softened towards it.
These feelings are likely to be older than this particular reaction to a rejection. Most of us have experienced rejection and abandonment numerous times during our lives and the feelings from those moments can lie dormant, erupting like a volcano whenever we experience a fresh new rejection. These feelings often just want to be seen, witnessed and received in a way that they might not have been in the past. How we receive our own feelings can be a total game-changer in terms of changing the patterns of a lifetime.
3.) Scan For Negative Beliefs
What are you making this rejection mean about you? What negative messages are you taking away from this situation? How are these messages reaffirming negative beliefs you are already holding about yourself?
You could free-write on these questions, writing by hand without censoring or editing, to find out what negative beliefs you’re carrying.
In my experience, having offered this kind of investigation to many people through The Inner Critic Inquiry, once people can articulate their deeply held negative beliefs, the power begins to diminish.
Once you’ve written down your negative beliefs, look at the words and ask yourself, “Is that true?” If the answer is no, you’re already starting to find distance from the self-sabotaging parts in you.
If the answer is yes, then you can dialogue with the part in you that speaks those words, most likely your Inner Critic. You can ask it a question on the page and let it answer in its own voice; ask your Critic how it thinks saying those things is going to help you and what it fears is going to happen to you if it doesn’t say these sorts of things, and see what it has to say.
Generally, as people open up a dialogue with their Critics, they begin to develop compassion for these often very young parts, who are only trying to help. This compassion tends to begin to dissolve the bonds, freeing the critics from their slave-driver roles and allowing people to access more freedom.
4.) What Needs Were You Hoping To Get Met?
Thinking back to your original hope for the situation, before you got rejected, can you tune into the needs that you were hoping to get met? What are you gutted about?
Eg, with the Strike A Light opportunity, I was hoping to:
- be supported by an organisation who’s values are in line with mine
- have space to explore my artistic practice
- have a fresh start in a new place
- be immersed in a community
- have a role that allows me to connect with all kinds of people
- not have to do a lot of marketing for a while
5.) What Needs Might Not Have Got Met?
As you think about the reality of not doing the thing / being in the relationship that you got rejected from, what are you relieved about?
Eg, with the Strike A Light opportunity, I am relieved that I don’t have to:
- prioritise my performance practice above all the other things I do - going back to making and touring shows feels exhausting right now!
- stop doing my therapy and supervision work - I only just qualified as a supervisor before I stopped work a year ago and I’m currently training in Internal Family Systems therapy - I want to use all that in my work.
- have a commitment for 2 1/2 years which might stop me being able to do other things like developing my facilitation training or developing a Master’s course.
6.) What Are You Really Looking For?
Looking back at your two lists of needs from questions 4 and 5, create a list of what it is you are really looking for.
Phrasing it in the present tense will help your imagination place you right there in that life, once you can imagine yourself there, it’s easier to find it.
Phrasing it in the positive, i.e. instead of writing, “I don’t do any marketing,” I could write, “I get support with my marketing,” is more likely to help the imagination begin to search for solutions.
It can help to be super specific i.e “I have someone who is artistic, responsible, organised and proactive to support me with my marketing, at least one day a week.” The more specific you are, the more likely you will find what you’re looking for.
Wanna Know What I Am Looking For?
Well this feels edgy, but I might as well say it, or how will anyone know?
Here's the vision:
I’m living in a new place, surrounded by nature, close enough to connect with my dear friends and colleagues in Bristol, but available to being part of a new community. I am nourished by plentiful connection and collaboration as well as space and solitude and rest. I have a great work-life balance.
My work is focussed towards creative arts therapy, supervision, consultancy and facilitation training and I continue to develop my version of ‘Fooling’ (solo improvisation where the performer embodies all the voices in their head), exploring the space where fooling meets Internal Family Systems (IFS) with generous collaborators, old and new. I continue to write and am receiving support with this, which allows my writing to reach new audiences.
I have great support to develop and deliver all my work. I am open to being supported by an organisation as well as wonderful collaborators. My collaborators share my core values for compassion, care, honesty, integrity, play and creativity. We communicate with respect and consideration, we help each other thrive. I have easy access to beautiful spaces with indoor and outdoor options to work in. Money flows in easily and plentifully.
Watch this space to see what happens next!
This process is an example of the sort of work I’ll be offering through my Creative Clarity one-to-ones starting this October. If you’re looking for clarity and it feels like it would be useful to have a guide, find out more about Creative Clarity here or sign up to my newsletter at the bottom of this page to be amongst the first to hear when new slots get released.
If you’d like to find out more about Strike A Light’s ‘Let Artists Be Artists’ scheme, click here.