Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.
I’ve been reading a history of western classical music recently. In a chapter on Johannes Brahms, I found this passage very interesting. It’s from an 1859 letter Brahms wrote to his friend, violinist Joseph Joachim, following one of the early performances of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Initially, the concerto was not well received.
I will force this hard and pointed steel pen…to relate to you how it came about that here my concerto has been a brilliant and decisive – failure…. At the conclusion three pairs of hands were brought together very slowly, whereupon a perfectly distinct hissing from all sides forbade any such demonstration… I believe this is the best thing that could happen to one; it forces one to concentrate one’s thoughts properly and increases one’s courage. After all, I am only experimenting and feeling my way as yet. But the hissing was too much of a good thing, wasn’t it?
Brahms appreciated that rejection can actually have some long-term benefit. Of course, it’s painful anytime we’re on the receiving end of rejection. It can make us stronger, though, and better artists. (Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis and many other works, says, “They were right to reject me. I reworked the projects they rejected and they became better.”) Brahms also acknowledges that rejection is a balance – the right amount can be a benefit, too much can be crushing.
Rejection puts us in good company, because any person you admire has experienced rejection during their life and career. It can also serve as a benchmark, as this article from Lifehacker points out: rejection at least means you’re out there trying, and trying is the only way you will ever succeed. A former boss reminded his sales force that success is sometimes a numbers game. He would show internal inquiry-to-contract data which demonstrated how many sales calls were made for every completed sale. The sales team just had to get through a certain number of rejections to reach each success. Understanding that rejection was part of the job actually increased motivation.
In other words, success and rejection go hand in hand. Hallelujah became one of Leonard Cohen’s most beloved songs, but the album it appears on was rejected by CBS Records (“What is this? This isn’t pop music.”) Instead of treating rejection as failure, view it as a research opportunity. Rejection doesn’t always mean you have to change what you’re doing, but it’s still an opportunity for reflection and self-analysis.
Finally, rejection is something we all have in common, but like a fingerprint the actual experience is unique to all of us. Our rejections, our failures, our pain, make us who we are. We can carry that through life with confidence, because we survived. Would Captain Kirk lie to us?