Off The Wall: Rejection Reflection

Hey Mike – How do you deal with rejection? I’ve been on several interviews over the last few months with no luck at all. I’m starting to take it personally.

Tara J.

Hi Tara

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.” 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.

I’m not gonna tell you I never let it bother me. Unless you’re a robot or a psychopath, it’s very hard to not take a personal rejection personally. The hardest one for me to accept is explained in this letter, which I received 17 years ago from a very decent Executive Producer at The Daily Show. It’s one of the nicest rejection letters I’ve ever received, but it was nevertheless devastating, because I knew then with certainty that this was my “dream job.”

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.) Reading it today though, I can’t believe how lucky I was to have been rejected. It was a critical step in a long series of failures that got me to the sewer, where my redemption awaited, and a new level of job satisfaction that I frankly, never imagined.

Point is Tara, 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.

Good Luck –

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