How to Handle Rejection

Getting used to rejection definitely takes practice.

I got plenty of practice back when I worked as an actress. My agent would send me out on dozens of auditions every week. Nothing fancy or glamorous. Typically, I’d be trying out for the role of “frazzled mom seeking a quick ‘n easy snack for the kids” or “used car customer searching for a hot deal on a minivan,” or something like that.

I’d step into the audition room, hand over my headshot and résumé, and then stand in front of a panel of surly, bored-looking people… literally, waiting to be judged.

I’d read my lines while they judged everything—my look, my age, my weight, my voice, my delivery, my every movement.

Most of the time, even if I did my absolute best, I’d get a “no.” And at first, this really bothered me. When you get rejected 9 times out of 10, it’s tough to remain sunny and positive, and it’s easy to get discouraged about your career.

But then one day, I happened to read an interview with one of my all-time favorite actors—Mark Ruffalo—where he shared that went on 600 auditions before ever landing his first acting role. Can you imagine that? 600 rejections in a row?!! My jaw dropped to the floor, and I thought, “Who the hell is not booking Mark Ruffalo??!”

That’s when I realized that getting rejected is the norm. Everyone gets rejected. Everyone. Even the Mark Ruffalos of the world.

These days, when I’m feeling discouraged about my career, I look to my heroes for inspiration.

I think about people like Serena Williams. She started playing tennis at the age of 3 and moved to West Palm Beach at the age of 9 to attend a pro tennis academy. Sure, she’s a legendary athlete today, dripping with medals, trophies, and lucrative sponsorship deals—but she’s the farthest thing from an overnight success. She worked her ass off for years to get where she is today.

Another one of my personal heroes is Taraji P. Henson. She’s beloved for playing “Cookie” on Empire. She’s basically the greatest ever and she has exploded onto the pop culture scene in recent years. But Taraji’s career wasn’t built in one day, or even one decade. She’s been auditioning since 1992—that’s 25 years ago—and she faced continual rejection, including people telling her she was “too old” to make it in Hollywood (uh, and this was back in 1992) and that she couldn’t possibly be a successful actress and be a single mom, too.

All the people that I admire most—Serena, Taraji, Shonda Rhimes, Gillian Flynn—and so many others, all share one thing in common, which is that NONE of them are “overnight successes.” They worked hard, had ups and downs, and developed the grit to withstand rejection, losses, and setbacks.

The next time you’re feeling discouraged, look to the people who really inspire you. Your heroes. Your fantasy mentors. Read their bios. Watch their interviews. Listen to in-depth podcasts featuring their stories. Dig into their past.

What you’ll find, nearly every time, is that they overcame crazy odds and continual rejection in order to live out their dream. And if they can survive that kind of rejection, then so can I, and so can you.