Successful people know that setbacks are opportunities in disguise — and that big wins don’t always change your life
Asa musical artist and, later, the owner of my own music agency, I’ve been rejected untold times and waited on countless follow-up calls that never came. Because of this, I’ve learned to accept disappointment as a viable option before it even happens. I try to remind myself that new opportunities are always around the corner. And it’s the most potent lesson I’ve ever learned.
I’m not alone in this. So You Think You Can Dance choreographer Mandy Moore arrived in Los Angeles at 18 years old with dreams of becoming a dancer. She was crushed when she wasn’t chosen for a scholarship program at a famous dance studio, which she thought would be the start of her career. Her entire plan — her future — depended on this one thing going right. Or so she believed.
Though she didn’t realize at the time, getting rejected made her even more more committed to her goals. With nowhere else to turn, Moore set onto a Plan B. Without a scholarship to fund her training, she took a job at a dance studio to pay for classes. Whenever she wasn’t working at the studio, she was there taking classes.
Moore became a dance teacher and went on to manage the studio where she worked and trained. She allowed her path to evolve, and committed to learning and growing along the way. Today, she’s one of Hollywood’s most in-demand choreographers.
That initial rejection seemed, at the time, like an irreversible blow to future success. But Moore has a different view in hindsight. “It’s probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” she says.
You risk rejection every time you put yourself out there. Publishing your writing, or even sending an email to someone you respect takes courage.
It’s also true that in order to be great at anything, we have to be willing to be mediocre first. It takes patience to accept that mastery comes from doing the same thing imperfectly, over and over — even in the face of momentary defeat.
Amber Rae, the artist and author also known as the “Millennial Motivator,” puts it another way: “Rejection is redirection.”
“Often our response to rejection is the belief that something must be wrong with us or that we’re not good enough,” she says. “We so easily go into that place where we feel really ashamed, and that’s where we get stuck, that’s where we isolate ourselves, that’s where we shut down, that’s where we over-personalize the rejection. Look at rejection as redirection and as a sign actually pointing you in a different direction, and then you’ll find what’s meant for you.”
She adds that rejection can be a catalyst “to get up and say, ‘Okay, well that wasn’t the right fit. Let me try again.’”
Just as rejection isn’t the be-all and end-all of your road to success, what seems like a “big break” might not pan out the way you expect. I once wrote the end title song to a very cool movie. Everyone, from the director to the producer to the head of soundtrack, said “yes.” I received feedback like, “This is amazing,” and “This will be your big break,” and “This will be bigger than KT Tunstall’s song at the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada.” It really was a great track.
The movie was made, and I attended the private screening. My song had been replaced. Just like that, it was gone.
It happened again. My song was chosen as the end title song for a fantastic film directed by David O. Russell and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel. It was going to be that elusive career breaker — until the director stepped away from the film. The movie went straight to DVD. My song was the end title song, but no one heard it.
Then there were the two years I spent working on a TV pilot with the Jim Henson Company. I signed a huge contract and built it up in my mind to be this big win. I was going to be the star of the show and it included all my music! Each and every network passed on it.
Experiences like these have happened so often throughout my career that I’m completely numb to the process. The important thing is to keep moving at such a pace that you’re not left waiting on a single opportunity.
We have to continue putting ourselves out far beyond our comfort zone. It’s a position we’re faced with no matter how many times we succeed. And it never totally gets easier.
Rejection is survivable, but it’s also a bit of a heartbreak. Once our hearts break in any scenario, we become clever — we tell ourselves to never want for anything or believe in something or love someone that deeply again. We hold off on taking risks in an effort to protect ourselves from disappointment.
What if we could, instead, reframe our situations as fertile and fortuitous opportunities?
As you start to share what’s inside of you, you realize that your mess is part of your message. Without our mistakes or wounds or misperceptions, we might not have our skills and talents and truth.
There’s power in realizing that perhaps our biggest challenges — what we see as weaknesses or setbacks — actually represent our biggest opportunities and gifts. Working through your obstacles will make you skillful and more resilient. You’ll become less afraid to grow.