Last August, I was sure I was going to get this one job...until I didn't. Surprised by the sting of rejection (I'm a musician after all, and I know from experience that I'm not going to win every audition), I decided to embark on an entire semester of putting myself out there so boldly that every rejection would be a win for my bravery.
Here's what I learned...
It's not personal.
Whether or not I got a job or a gig or a student wasn't up to me. It depended on lots of variables: if there was funding available, if I was the right fit, if schedules aligned, etc. People aren't saying no to you; they're saying no to your proposal, your ask, your offer. When people say no, it's not about you.
That was the point of the whole rejection experiment for me. Could I get rejected enough times so that I wouldn't take it personally anymore? The answer is yes, and no. Absolutely, this was a transformative experience in that I truly no longer care if someone tells me no. There have been times, though, when the reason behind the rejection did elicit an emotional response, like frustration.
With intention comes clarity.
There are no end to the number of things for which you can apply, be it jobs or grants or opportunities. When the world is your oyster of rejections, you realize pretty early on that you have to figure out what you really want. You have to focus your energy in the direction of opportunities that make your heart sing.
This semester made me get in touch with what I really wanted. I have a lot of different jobs within my portfolio career, and my mission to inspire awareness and empowerment so that others can be agents of positive change in the world unites them all. Sometimes I achieve my mission through teaching music, sometimes coaching, or performing, but I realized that there was a common theme not only to WHAT my mission was, but HOW I needed to achieve it. That underlying theme was education. Even when I'm composing, I'm thinking of how to educate my audience. By the end of the semester, I realized that, for me to be truly happy, I needed to focus on opportunities that included an educational component.
Get out of your way.
Whatever is keeping you from achieving your goals becomes more obvious. It may be a limited mindset, physical ailments, or other issues. These challenges become clearer and bigger when you're putting yourself out there in a big way. It's like you're going into battle.
In my situation, I had to overcome some erroneous perceptions, but I also had to get to the bottom of my health issues. The urgency of being able to perform my job at the highest level made me realize that my health was holding me back, so I kept pushing my doctors to figure out what was going on with my gut. I finally got diagnosed with a stomach infection. Getting treated for that has made my energy levels soar. I'd been accepting feeling sub-par for so long, I hadn't realized how bad it had gotten. The semester of rejection put a spotlight onto what was holding me back.
Some things fix themselves.
This is actually something I've learned before, but I apparently needed a reminder. It's part of the human condition to want immediate responses. For me, I'm really good at making things happen. When you're putting yourself out there, however, you need to give people time to consider your ask. It doesn't do any good to follow-up quickly, although follow-ups are definitely necessary. It can make you appear needy, and that impression can illicit a negative response. In short, needy is creepy.
Give the Universe a chance to be on your side, to do some magic on your behalf. There's peace to be had in letting go. You can't control other people's responses or even what they think of you. Do your thing, then see what comes your way. People can surprise you if you let them. The Universe can, too.
I could make this blog a lot longer. My semester of rejections was a transformative experience with intangible benefits that I suspect will follow for years to come. I'm proud of myself for doing this experience, and I'm humbled, but not necessarily in ways I'd anticipated. Instead of feeling humbled by the rejections, I'm humbled by the strangers who saw the value in what I do without knowing me personally. I'm humbled by the opportunities that opened up in unexpected ways. Lastly, I'm humbled by the incredible support from my team. If you should embark on such an experiment yourself, level up your support first.
Dr. Nancy Williams is a musician, educator, and leadership coach who helps creatives lead their lives and careers in a way that brings them joy and empowerment. Get her free guide "3 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome" here and receive weekly email messages of inspiration and leadership tips.