A Familiar Beast

I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.

We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?

Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.

He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.




  1. Rebecca: having worked my share of “survival” jobs, I can honestly say the arts are more difficult. In other fields, being personable, professional, having related skills and knowing someone in a particular office almost assures that you will be hired providing there isn’t a downturn in the economy. Literally, you can pick a career-adjacent job right off the tree, work entry-level for nothing, and then gradually work your way into the role you desire. Rejection? Sure. But if you want to be a “Banking VP”, in five years you’re going to be a “Banking VP” if you work hard and don’t screw up.

    In the Arts, you need a hook-up. An immediate, slam-dunk hook-up to even come close to making progress. It is harder. “Overnight Successes” are people that have worked hard for a few years, but have a good chunk of money and hookups, direct pathways into the industry, and then get a break. YouTube sensations are a little different because they get a ton of followers and then (via luck) one of the gatekeepers gives them a contract. But, again, a lot of that is wealth and connections.

    I personally believe in circumventing the gatekeepers and self-publishing and making deals independent of giant publishers. At the end of the day, as long as you make bank, good money, then you’ve got one-up on the beast, one-up on the gatekeepers. Literally, if you dug deep, you could go from bookstore to bookstore and ask them to sell your book. You can publicize it on eBay, on Amazon, have a live-reading via podcast, and so on.

    I think cross-pollinating and cross-marketing are huge, too. Make a podcast, T-shirt, ice cream
    Flavor related to your story – or involve friends who do that stuff and THEN take it to Amazon, YouTube, Earwolf and elsewhere.

    Screw the publishers. It’s tedium. It’s flooded out the windows. All you need is someone to agree to put your product out there for money, and you could do it yourself independently. I believe that will stem the tide of rejection from the top, and put the power of sales and profit more in your hands.

    It seems that way to me. I’m swimming in rejection right now, mind you, so I could be completely wrong.

  2. I really like “epicgourmetcooking”‘s ideas Becky. Thank you:) I think you have to put some power in your own hands and stop waiting by the mailbox or phone. John Favreau made a name for himself by co producing/writing “Swingers” and cast himself as the star. He didn’t wait around and look at him now.

  3. Dear Becky, I have always been a psychiatric nurse, and worked 20 years at a hospital, going on to 31 years in the same system. As far as evolving in my career, these were years where there wasn’t much rejection for my work, AND I earned a paycheck. I generally had colleagues who were very supportive, and we grew together. I had a few years of lay offs and my job not being a good fit, and for that I went through the discouraging process of finding a new one, as I aged . America generally does not smile as fondly on people in their 50’s and 60’s when looking for a job. Then, I did some writing, and got an article published on my Dad, “Skiing Until 80”. It took a lot of work to get this published. It was in the Living Section of the Lincoln Journal Star. I got a little taste of what you may be feeling. All I can say is that it must be discouraging, yet you are acquiring more and more experience, tenaciousness, savvy, and are networking more and more. I can only imagine the reality of times of discouragement in the arts and entertainment world. You are so very talented in many areas. Don’t let the beast get you down for long. Keep doing the things you love, keep exercising as you do, distract yourself with enlightening, fun things, and take a break from your thoughts when down. It is hard, but can make a difference to get out of that mode. Fight that ugly beast!! I have faith in you. Please take care of you, as you are amazing. Love, Terri
    BTW, I have a girlfriend who experienced the phenomenon of the beast in your picture when she was young. Very scary, and what an analogy.

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