We’ve all been there before and if you haven’t, brace yourself because it’s about to get real. You spend days or even weeks working on a proposal, feeling confident in the blood and sweat you put into making it something the reader can believe in too. Then you wait for what seems like years on the response that would determine a significant course in your career. And for a brief time, you even forget that you submitted a proposal. Finally, the day comes and you’re reminded that you had, in your opinion, this brilliant idea that only needed the support of the host organization in question. Your mobile device vibrates letting you know that you’ve got a new email notification. You hesitate and think, “Maybe I should go make that sandwich I’ve been meaning to make before I check this.” But you rethink that option. Maybe eating before isn’t such a good idea. Indigestion is no one’s friend. You unlock your phone and click on the email notification. Sure enough, it’s the email you’ve been waiting on. You try to imagine if there was ever another moment that you’ve been so indecisive about what to do. Again, you stop. What kind of silly question is that?
Nothing could ever prepare you for what comes next. The adrenaline pounds its way through your body, worsening the massive knot in your stomach. You’re grateful you didn’t eat that sandwich. I doubt that anyone, in their initial reading of an “outcome” letter, ever reads it in its entirety. I’d be willing to bet that most times our eyes frantically skim over everything searching for the “yes” or the dreaded “no.” And sometimes the letter is worded in such a way that it forces you to immediately start over.
There are so many creative ways to say no without actually saying no and that’s something you’ll learn early on in your proposal and grant writing endeavours. So after re-reading the letter you realize that your submission has, in fact, been rejected or “unsuccessful” to put it less harsh. At this point a few things happen. You’re disappointed, slightly dumbfounded and you begin to question your reading abilities.
You review the letter again hoping that maybe your eyes deceived you. But you read right. The words are almost pulsating on the screen, doing a weird kind of “no” dance just for you. Finally, you accept that your hopes of realizing your vision through whatever host organization have been quashed.
So what happens now that your ideas have been shot down? A few days ago I was talking to a Trinidadian artist and friend I met through Caribbean Linked IV in July, about the best time of day to open “outcome” letters. It goes without saying that results, which aren’t in our favour, can colour the rest of our day or even week in the most depressing shade of grey imaginable.
If we choose to wait until the very end of the day to read the letter then perhaps we can go to bed and wake up with that being just a faint memory from the day before. But for those of us who tend to overthink and pour over every minute detail that could’ve possibly swung the decision in our favour, then that spells insomnia. Waiting would also be difficult for the habitual email checkers, those of us whose mobile device could best be described as a permanent appendage on our body. I don’t know that there is a right time to read bad news but perhaps there are measures we can take to dull the effects it can have on our mind and body.
1. Don’t take it personally. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get so emotionally invested in a proposal that a rejection letter can feel like a personal slight when it really isn’t. The truth is yours was probably one of thousands of applications coming from every corner of the world. Clearly there were stronger submissions from other creative practitioners or maybe yours just wasn’t the right fit for the host organization you were applying to. Regardless, it’s almost never personal and so you shouldn’t allow it to embitter you. Instead, thank them for taking the time to consider your application, as it is no easy task to review such large numbers of images and text.
2. No can mean “not right now.” Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Whenever we observe our contemporaries getting ahead and making progress in their careers while we can’t seem to get past “park,” it simply means that it’s not our time. There is no need to be jealous or resentful towards to anyone whenever our proposals are rejected. Very often we can’t begin to fathom the amount of work and sacrifice that got them those opportunities, so don’t try to diminish their efforts by saying, “They didn’t deserve it.” Instead, be grateful for them. Every time an artist makes progress we should all celebrate because it would’ve meant that they defeated tremendous odds and found opportunity in a world that is constantly telling us, “There’s no budget for art.” Wish them well and go back to work. Your time will come.
3. Use it as a learning curve. Failure and rejection come part and parcel with being a creative practitioner. There’s no avoiding them. I once read that “failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” and this is something every artist should hold onto during their process. Failure can bring into focus all the areas of your practice that need strengthening. Continue to work and grow from critique. Try not to encourage too many “yes” people in your corner, as they will do very little to foster healthy discussions about what works and doesn’t work in the art that you make. Find persons who can dive beneath the superficial layer of, “It looks so nice!” to offer you a more substantial reading of your work. Rejection will help you to think and speak more critically about your practice and eventually you will find your right audience.
4. Don’t stop applying. The growing collection of rejection letters in your email inbox shouldn’t deter you from applying to more calls for proposals. Be ye not dismayed! Consider the fact that while your application might not have been successful, you still managed to get your work reviewed by new and influential eyes! More persons are now familiar with your name and work despite your inability to make it to the finish line. This would not have been possible had you chosen to ignore the call. And if you have an active social media platform then they may very well be observing your progress from across the pond. Remember, someone is always watching! So maintain a positive and humble outlook while you work. Set your goals and continue to challenge yourself daily.