No one I know enjoys pain of any kind, least of all something as personally wounding as rejection. But with a little effort you can not only deal with it, but perhaps get something good out of it.
There’s no getting around it: in order to make it as an actor, you have to put yourself out there. And not just once or twice in a blue moon, the way civilians do when they apply for jobs. When you’re an actor, no matter how self-starting you are and how many great opportunities you create for yourself (and please, please be out there creating them!), you’re going to be subjected to rejection as a way of life.
Tactic #1: Let yourself feel it completely. I have a theory about why some people feel worse for longer, based on my own experience with (mis)handling rejection: they try to skip the step of really feeling awful about it. Or worse, they relive the horrible part instead of processing their grief, something my very smart friend Patrick dubbed “Callback in the Car.” (Come on–you know you’ve done it!) Get yourself somewhere you can feel awful, especially if when you feel awful you need to cry or scream or punch something (and it goes without saying, that thing should be an inanimate object, and you should not be punching it in the vicinity of anyone who might be terrorized by the punching.) Then let it out for however long you designate. Set a timer! Then move on. If it’s still not out, schedule some more boo-hoo sessions (c.f. Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News) and repeat. Additional note: if crying/screaming/punching ain’t your bag, or even if it is, you might also try writing everything out about what you’re feeling. And I mean everything. Ultimately, you will get so bored with it, you’ll disgust or amuse yourself.
Tactic #2: Start a “lemonade” story file. I have crazy files all over my computer, in the cloud, and stashed away in manila folders: A “kudos” file, full of compliments, thank-you notes and other savory items sent to me by various people. A “happy” file, full of photos that make me smile; it’s set to kick in as my screensaver, so I always get a boost when I’m walking by my monitor. A “lemonade” file–something I’ve just started collecting, is a collection of stories about something bad turning into something good. Some are personal, like my Crohn’s onset opening me up to a better, happier way of life; others are inspirational, like the Lemonade movie and web site, full of real people’s stories about how losing one job opened a door to a much better one that they’d never dreamed of. The acting world itself is full of these stories: if Lisa Kudrow hadn’t gotten axed from Frasier, she never would have made it to Friends. Open your eyes and your mind. Find your blind spots. Adjust and move on.
Tactic #3: Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared. You’ve heard the advice about having somewhere to go after an audition, right? Well, I’ve found it’s also enormously helpful to have a list of nice, good-for-you, non-destructive treats to turn to when you’re in the dumps: favorite books; a happy movie; a list of good friends to call; a tiny treat. This is a running list that is terrific to carry with you and add to as you think of something. Because when you’re really upset, sometimes you don’t think so good, you know? My friend Gretchen Rubin, the Happiness Project lady, has lots of interviews with people who talk about what they use when they need a happiness boost.
Bonus-extra weirdo tactic: Collect your “no”s. I’m gearing up to submit a proposal for a full-length book to traditional publishers. In the worst market since traditional publishing began. With no personal track record of my own in the business. In preparation for ways to deal with the inevitable barrage of rejections, I stumbled on this terrific way of reframing things so that those “no”s aren’t so awful: make a game of how many of them you can collect. It’s a tactic from sales, where cold-calling rejection rates put actor rejection rates to shame. Remember Glengarry Glen Ross, and “Coffee is for closers!“? Yeah. Count your blessings. Literally. Because every one of those “no”s brings you closer to a “yes,” numbers-wise. (I never actually counted, but I guesstimated my own audition-to-booking rate as 50 auditions per commercial gig. And that was in the days of 3 – 5 auditions a day. And was considered a good ratio!)
30-minutes or less tip of the month: When you’re feeling anxious–something a botched audition can definitely make you feel–try a Worries Brain-Dump. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes (up to a half-hour, if you think you can take it) and list every single thing you’re worried about, from “earthquakes!” to “ending up alone and broke, pushing a shopping cart.” Then pick from 1 – 5 things and brainstorm ONE tiny step you could take right now to ease that fear: “google ‘earthquake readiness'” or calling a friend for reassurance that if you ever really hit the skids, you can crash on the couch for two weeks. (Seriously. I did both of these!)
Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Every month I send out a free missive about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you. Check it out, then sign up.
Colleen Wainwright is a writer–speaker–consultant who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good and not evil by helping people learn how to get there faster by getting out of their own way.