About rejection: When things don’t go your way

Mike Rowe
daily show.
Mike Rowe holding his rejection letter from The Daily Show (posted on his blog)

“DirtyJobs” host Mike Rowe has published a blog posting where he comes clean about his failures — auditions and applications that resulted in the dreaded “rejection letter”. He wrote it as a response to a communication from someone facing consistent recent job rejection.

From 1984 to 1990, I auditioned for at least 500 jobs. I booked less than a dozen. That’s one “yes” for every fifty “no’s.” In 1993, after losing my steady job at QVC, (deservedly,) I returned to the freelance life. For the next eight years, I lived in New York and Hollywood, and auditioned for no less than two thousand gigs. I booked roughly three-hundred of those. In other words, I did very well. But along the way, I was rejected two or three times a week. That’s every week, for the better part of a decade. That’s a lot of rejection.

Rowe says his most painful rejections occurred when he failed on the short-list as host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

When The Daily Show was first conceived, Comedy Central spent a year looking for the right host. The audition process was extensive, and when the dust settled, it came down to two – Craig Kilborn and me. The job went to Craig, and I was crushed.

A year later, Craig split, and the network called me back. I went in for another audition. This time, I wasn’t going to let it get away. I did the very best job I could, and all modesty aside, I killed it. Afterwards, I was told by the producers and writers that I was about to become the new host of The Daily Show, unless – by some miracle – Comedy Central were to suddenly cough up the kind of money that could entice a proven entity like Dennis Miller or Jon Stewart. Of course, we all now which way the mop flopped, and I was once again, devastated.

Last week, watching Jon’s final show, I thought about how shitty I felt when I received this letter 17 years ago. (If you look closely, you’ll see the tracks of my tears, long since dried.)

Of course, he paints a positive picture about the reasons for — and consequences of — these rejections.

Hundreds of experts have written thousands of books on how to handle rejection. I’ve read a few, and from what I can tell, they all say the same thing – rejection is a necessary stop on the road to happiness and success. Personally, I believe this is true. But I know for a fact that rejection is also a necessary stop on the road to failure and despair. Seems to me that rejection is a reality in everyone’s life, but it’s a reality with no inherent power beyond the power we give it.

For me, the trick to handling rejection is to see if for what it is – the most likely result of “trying.”

As well, he writes: “You can’t separate your successes from your failures until you look back, and even then, there’s not much point in putting each into a separate column. It’s all a part of whatever path your on.”

But don’t misunderstand me – that path is not laid out in advance – at least not in my opinion. I don’t believe that, “everything happens for a reason.” I think we make our own luck, and the only real failure is the failure to try. Since you asked, I suggest using the rejection in your own life to propel you to whatever’s next. Do that, and it’s entirely possible you’ll look back in seventeen years and thank your lucky stars for the many failures that got you there.

I think Rowe’s points have validity for anyone who wants to stretch boundaries (or sell stuff). You don’t get anywhere without putting in the effort that leads to rejection; and one failure can lead to other opportunities.

However, I also believe that unless you have a really strange character (and one of a person I would like to stay far away from), you should rationally use your skills and knowledge and marketing capacities to reduce rejection risk, rather than just dive in and repeat the painful processes that lead to rejection.

As an example, which is the better way to succeed in business:  Pounding on door after door, sending out unsolicited proposal after unsolicited proposal, only to be turned away — or, building a reputation, developing and achieving word-of-mouth recognition, and then applying and leveraging that positive reputation through speaking and media publicity.

Here, you might indeed face some rejection along the way, but it will be from an elevated, intelligent level. Like Mike Rowe’s experiences.