Everyone, even the continually ‘successful’ in life, will spend the majority of their time in a state of failure, rejection, struggle or boredom.
How well you manage those numerous down periods defines your level of success.
How quickly do you bounce back from setbacks? How much do you embrace the struggle of trying to achieve something against the odds? How likely are you to look at a long queue of other people wanting the same thing you do and say ‘bring it on!’?
For all the streams, the awesome gigs, and the radio interviews, and the tours around Europe, and so on… when I look back on the last ten years of playing with August and After, over 90% of the time was spent NOT getting the things we wanted.
We might perform to a sold out crowd, but only after dozens of gigs where the number of people in the band outnumbered the audience (sometimes three to one).
We might get an interview on BBC Radio, but only after sending hundreds of unanswered emails.
My solo project has been quite a strange and humbling experience – I went from playing concerts to packed out venues in London and getting tens or hundreds of thousands of streams per song, to having a audience of my mum and my girlfriend (who’s basically part of the band anyway) and having to start again.
I’ve had a lot of pretty negative thoughts, things like:
“Am I doing things really slowly?”
“Is there already too much music in the world?”
“Was Vedantha always the good one? Am I Art Garfunkle to his Paul Simon, rather than the other way round, despite the respective hairstyles?
“Have I missed my chance?”
And so on…
This year has been all about building resilience – training myself to manage the boredom of doing the same things every week to try and grow consistency, to deal with rejection, even from the playlisters that used to feature every new August and After song.
But there are still moments when my good mood can be instantly turned into a bad mood because of one tiny rejection email that I wasn’t even surprised to receive.
I’ve sat back for a few weeks to think about how I’ve dealt with rejection, and come up with 3 things I find useful when I’m feeling especially down.
Focus solely on what I can do better
I find it so empowering to keep reminding myself that it’s up to ME to write better, produce better, film better… not up to any tastemakers or listeners to give me the outcome I want.
This is not just about finding positives in failure – it’s about reimagining rejection to have nothing to do with the person doing the ‘rejecting’.
It’s my duty to make content that other people find interesting, and no one owes me anything. Reading my email is already more than I can expect, let alone replying to it.
So when I send out a hundred emails to tastemakers (blogs, radio presenters, playlisters), there are two ways I can measure myself.
I can either focus on the response I get – how many replies, how many people said yes, and so on…
Or I can focus on what I did and how I could do it better… because unless 100% of people said yes, there is by definition room for improvement in the pitch.
Are the lyrics and the music the best I can write? Did I put enough effort into the production, grabbing the listener’s attention? Was my email subject line enticing enough? Did I take the time to build a personal identifier into each email? Did I send enough (polite) chase emails?
The reason I find this approach so liberating is that by focusing on improvements, I’m refusing to admit that I’m being rejected by THEM – it’s ME that hasn’t done enough to earn their acceptance.
It’s far more exciting to think about the stretch of time ahead as a sort of quest to find the best song out there in the world. Once I’ve found it, I’ll know. Until then, I have more room for improvement – and this has to be exciting. If it’s not, I’m spending my life and happiness on the wrong thing.
So I’m no longer waiting behind a metaphorical queue of other people pitching for the same playlists, hoping I’ll get a yes – instead, I’m working to find the best possible thing to bring to the table, so that when it’s my turn, the music is so irresistible that they can’t help but say yes.
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Look back with affection on previous struggles
Sometimes I think back to the early days of August and After – inviting people to Facebook events and sometimes having literally zero people show up, trying to work out the best way to position our microphone in Vedantha’s bedroom (without realising we were using the wrong end of it), getting no replies to the hundreds of emails we sent out trying to get our music featured somewhere, anywhere…
When I think about those times, I feel a warm glow of nostalgia. We spent a lot of time being rejected (or just being ignored) and feeling lost and having no clue where to even begin, etc. But primarily we were following a dream, having a laugh, and learning a lot over the way.
Do I remember the passages of time sending out emails? No.
Do I remember finishing our recording session early to go and play five-a-side football? Yes.
(In particular, I remember being better than Vedantha.)
This makes me realise that these periods don’t have to feel like failure – it is possible for me to enjoy the struggle and I’ll no doubt look back with affection on this year and the early months of ‘Ned Stranger’ in just the same way.
Remind myself that the people ‘rejecting’ me are people too, with their own needs
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only person in the world.
Every single person I send an email has their own struggles, their own people rejecting them, their own unfulfilled needs.
One of the most powerful people in the world, the US President, is about to be publicly and officially rejected by millions of people in his own country, possibly (hopefully) enough to take away the thing he wants the most.
Because I feel extremely lucky to have the friends, the health, the opportunities and the ambitions I do, I generally feel like a very lucky person. I think about this mental wellbeing stuff a LOT and whenever I send someone a pitch email, I believe on balance I’m probably happier than they are.
Why does this make me feel better?
It’s not out of some spiteful feeling of glee that the person I’m being ‘rejected’ by is somehow getting their comeuppance…
It’s because it brings me back to that first point: that I have all of this in my own hands. The reason I spend so much of my time writing music and sharing it with people is that THAT is the way that I try to make people happy.
It gives me a sense of value, even in ‘rejection’, that I even have the power to make other people happy if I try hard enough.
It also stops me feeling like the higher echelons of the music industry are like a sort of exclusive happy place, where others are trying to get in, to attain that happiness too. Instead, we’re all on the same plane – I just have my own goals and I’m trying to reach more people and make them happy with my music.
So there’s nothing to feel rejected about.
But that’s enough about me – how do you deal with rejection?
Do you find it especially tough?
Do you have your own ways of dealing with it?
Leave a comment below!