Lessons Learned From Rejections

Rejection is important. I don’t want to annoy you with some long stories of overcoming rejection and persevering to become the man I always knew I could be. For one it just wouldn’t be accurate and two I really don’t want to bore you. Instead, I’m going to touch on rejection in business and creative endeavors.

I learned for one that anything in life worth pursuing is going to be full of competition and you are going to get rejected along the way, and it’s not so much as how much you grow talent-wise, though that’s obviously important, it’s more about your resiliency.

Your talent won’t have a chance to grow if you run away at the first sign of rejection. I know this isn’t something you don’t already know. This mantra circulates social media daily. Accounts share stories of perseverance and a willingness to succeed playing a more significant role than raw talent in a person’s career.

It’s advice we’ve all heard before and one reason is that it’s true. When I got started with writing, I wrote poetry more than fiction because, putting it bluntly, you can write more poems in a day than you can write fiction in a day, which means you can send out more query letters to literary magazines and you have more opportunities to get accepted. Quantity—quantity—quantity.

Of course, I got rejected a lot because if you are writing five or ten poems, a day chances are a few of them (if not all of them) are going to be–subpar.

I still have a slight fear of rejection, but it’s nothing like it used to be. When I first pursued writing in college, I would hover over the submit button for ten full minutes before finally holding my breath and sending out my work.  I took rejections personally too, even if I knew it wasn’t my best work and let a boilerplate response ruin my day. But as time wore on, and the rejection letters piled up (wow this is not making me sound like a good writer) my skin grew a little thicker, and I was able to brush it off and move on to the next one. Now, I’m not saying this guarantees I’ll succeed as a writer, but my chances have improved.

Moving on to traditional business endeavors. When I first moved down to New Orleans and started a consulting firm with my brother and father, I scheduled two meetings my first two weeks. They were both booked off LinkedIn, both essentially cold calls, and both turned down our services. Two rejections right out of the gate–and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

If it weren’t for those two rejections, I might’ve still feared pitching potential clients, or closing a sale. Yes, these rejections helped me on a technical front, they forced me to revisit my pitch, and focus on my delivery, but they also helped develop a skill I didn’t know I needed–the ability to brush off rejection–the ability to keep moving forward. You could be the most talented individual in your field but if you crumble when your ideas or pitches are rejected your career will stall.

Dealing with rejection is a skill, and it’s one anyone can learn. All a person has to do is put themselves out there a little more.


Building A Critical Mass

If you can build a list—a fanbase—a consumer base of diehards, you have your autonomy. Developing a critical mass of supporters who love your brand, who love your mission, who like the product and the services that you are providing allow you to navigate around traditional gatekeepers and control your own destiny.

For example, in traditional publishing, you rely on agents to get you in the door. They go to bat for you and try to sell your manuscript to publishers. In return, the creator receives a sum in advance limited royalties in the future.

Now, thanks to technology, the frequency indie authors are able to publish, and their ability to directly communicate with their fanbase has created a unique advantage. Though they have to self-fund their projects, and don’t have the same resources larger publishing houses have, they have the nimbleness to capture niche markets and build sustainable brands.

The significant number I’ve heard tossed around is 1000. If you can land 1000 fans, not just 1000 casual observers, or 1000 people who know you exist, but 1000 diehard fans who will buy everything you put out, will tell all their friends about you, will subscribe to your newsletter and promote your giveaways, then you have the means to build a career.

1000 is probably not a guarantee, but it’s great to have a figure in mind to strive for. After all, Napoleon Hill made it abundantly clear in his work you need specific numbers if you’re going to visualize your dreams into realities.

Hugh Howey, who wrote the Silo series has written plenty of content on the indie market and how much he supports creators pursuing their own paths instead of relying on traditional gatekeepers. He thinks writers should be more like musicians, building an audience on their own and building a brand on their own. That way, when those with money and resources approach the creators, those who have the content aren’t in a vulnerable position. They can control their own destiny because they built a brand others want and can negotiate from a position of power (or at least operate with some leverage outside an unpublished manuscript).

It all starts with building a critical mass—building a fanbase that can take you to the next level. Personally, I’m putting my focus on creating a mailing list, making a YouTube channel, and building a network on LinkedIn.

Music Breeds Entrepreneurs

I’ve learned plenty of valuable lessons inside the classroom, but some of the most useful skills I learned came from my experience in the music scene in the DMV. For those of you unfamiliar with the abbreviation it stands for D.C. Maryland, and Virginia. I was involved in a hip-hop group called the Undergrounduates at the University of Maryland and was president of the group for a year. I met artists in all stages of their career across all genres, and I learned a lot about resiliency and passion—as you might expect. What I didn’t expect to learn was how to run a business.

When’s the last time you studied a musician, and I mean really studied them. I’m still friends with a lot of musicians who are trying to make it in one of the most competitive industries, and I’m blown away by how hard they have to work. Yes, they’re artists, but they’re also the ideal businessmen. These guys are putting in 18 hours a day into their craft.

They’re either perfecting a song, meeting with producers, recording music videos, booking shows, speaking with promoters, designing logos for merchandise, and organizing their own events. They are always looking for that next opportunity. One of my friends drives down to Austin every year for SXSW with no guarantee he’ll be able to perform and ends up stealing a couple stages because performers inevitably drop out last minute. He’s also gone on to build a bit of a following as a street performer in DC and NYC; he never stops working or looking for that edge.

Every musician I know who lives and breathes their craft is the same way. All they need is a microphone or an audience (even if it’s just an audience of one) because they genuinely believe in themselves, their music, and their message.

All of their projects are self-funded. They’re flying all over the country on their own dime because they understand the importance of people to people connections. They know finding that one group of diehard fans can completely change their life.

They’re also experts at branding. Continually putting their face and message out there and designing their own merchandise with their logos, all to develop a critical mass of support.

They’re doing all this for a product we don’t need to live. You can make the argument without music and art we aren’t living a life, and I’ll probably agree with you, but what I mean is it’s not like they’re pushing a product that sells itself. A song won’t build you a house or design a new app. It won’t cure disease or reduce carbon emissions. It’s music. It’s a shortcut to pure emotion in a market that’s flooded with new creators every day.

They’re selling five minutes that can change your life if you let it–where you fall into your own mind and feel emotions that weren’t there a second ago.

Musicians are another breed of entrepreneurs, and I think that we in the traditional realm of business can learn a lot from their hustle, their drive, and their willingness to bet on themselves.

Fake Numbers Don’t Help

I had to learn the hard way that vanity numbers don’t help.

So a friend of mine was a little upset the other day because someone she interacted with on Twitter unfollowed her out of the blue. She got unfollowed because she didn’t follow this account back. My friend felt a little hurt because she was starting to build a bit of a friendship with this account. She realized she wasn’t following the guy and wanted to fix that. It was a bit of a surprise to see he unfollowed her because she didn’t follow back.

Bad move. The optics look a whole lot better when you’re following people you want to follow (even if they don’t follow back) than when you reduce your follow rate to keep some arbitrary ratio in place. The whole follow for follow, like for like crap doesn’t work it’s all vanity.

It’s all numbers. I know personally when I was first getting started on Twitter it’s all I cared about. I was wrong. When I first got into Twitter I went to Fiverr and bought 5,000 followers for five bucks. All of them were fake, none of them interacted with me, none of them bought my stuff, and now they’re all gone because Twitter swept and got rid of all those fake accounts.

I mean it’s only five dollars–it cost me a foot long, but it didn’t help the way I thought it was going to. I thought big accounts had big followings. I thought numbers, even fake numbers, made the influencer because I thought it was all about perception.

But it was all fake. Fake numbers don’t matter. What matters is finding a community and using social media to interact with real people. Don’t go out there and only self-promote; don’t go out there saying follow for follow or like for like it’s not gonna work if you go into this only reaching out to get something in return. You can’t support someone to get support back. You can’t do good things and act as if people owe you for it. It’s not a sustainable business practice. You might get a sale or two, but you’re going to rub people the wrong way and hurt your brand.

It takes more work, but if you figure out your purpose, your vision, what messages you’re trying to convey on here, you can find the right community and once you do you can thrive.