When I started out I was very sensitive to criticism, to a certain extent I still am. I took it personally, I’d agonise over it for days and internalise it, going over any email or conversation, endlessly torturing myself.
When I became a copywriter I soon realised that rejection was par for the course, not because I was a bad copywriter but because it’s the nature of the job. Often your experience isn’t what they’re looking for, or they’ve chosen someone they’ve worked with before who’s a safe pair of hands, or perhaps your style of writing isn’t right for their particular brand. Whatever the reason, no matter how nice they are, it hurts, and sometimes they’re not so nice – and that hurts even more.
If you were looking for a permanent job working for an employer you might experience a lot of rejection before finding success, and then you wouldn’t experience it again perhaps for many years – until you applied for another job. However, as a copywriter, freelance writer or any self-employed person working for themselves, regardless of industry, you will experience rejection on a regular basis. This may wane slightly the more experienced you become, with clients coming to you once you’re more established, and eventually, find yourself in a position to turn down clients rather than the other way round. Those early years however, will be full of ups and downs.
Anybody who says their work has never been criticised or rejected is telling porkies, because all of us will have been turned down for something at least once in our lives, especially if you’re self-employed. Never listen to anyone who says they’ve never had their work criticised or they’ve never been rejected – no one is that perfect.
It’s hard when you start out, because you’re constantly being bombarded with images of people who are very, very successful, who seem pretty invincible, who’ve never been rejected and had a smooth trajectory to success. But even they will have experienced rejection at some point in their careers, they will have had to move on, dust themselves down and move on to the next job. One of the factors of why they’re so successful may have been down to their ability to deal with rejection in a more positive and healthy way.
The important thing about rejection is not that it's happened to you, but how you respond to it – some do it better than others. How well you come back from rejection will determine how successful you’re going to be, because if you allow it to drag you down, you’ll reach a point where you don’t get back up at all.
Thing is, why does it hurt so much when we get rejected? And why is it that some will bounce back quicker than others?
Firstly, rejection elicits pain, and serious pain, because apparently the same parts of the brain are activated as when you experience physical pain. So it’s no small wonder that it smarts in the way that it does. Rejection has the power to take us off course, it can unbalance us and make us feel isolated. No one will ever admit to being rejected because to do so will be to admit weakness, and if you’re a copywriter, then you must give off the constant smell of success, no business will invest in your time if you come across as a loser – or so it seems.
If you lived in hunter/gatherer times rejection meant possible expulsion from the group, which could lead to an untimely death, so you’d correct your behaviour so you’d remain within your tribe.
Today, being rejected doesn’t have quite the same dramatic impact, we’re not going to die when someone turns down our work, or tells us we’re not up to the mark, or if someone criticises our grammar or punctuation we’re not going to be eaten by bears, but it can still give our self-esteem a battering.
We can turn in on ourselves and destroy what’s left of our shaky self-esteem, we can ram the final nails in the coffin by becoming intensely critical of ourselves, become annoyed by our perceived short-comings. But this isn’t good because it’s self-destructive, it’s unhealthy for our emotional well-being and it can stop us functioning all-together, and when you’re self-employed, confidence is an essential quality.
Why do some people bounce back quicker? Well, they may have better levels of self-esteem, they may also be surrounded by people who tell them how amazing they are when the chips are down, boosting their confidence in the face of defeat, pushing them on towards success. Some people, even if they are alone, may have better levels of self-confidence and be naturally positive and therefore be able to handle rejection better. If you already have shaky self-esteem and lack confidence then it may be harder to bounce back, and if you are on your own, you only have your own perspective to rely on. There’s no one to give you a different perspective, or a more balanced, objective view of things. If you start knocking yourself down, there’s no one there to tell you to stop.
I have experienced all these feelings, but as time has gone on I’ve become stronger and more resilient. I’ve found better ways of dealing with rejection so now it’s far easier to deal with and I’m able go on to the next job. I’m not saying I don’t respond it at all, but I don’t wind up in a corner analysing it to the nth degree. It happens to everyone else, so why shouldn’t it happen to me?
How can we deal with rejection better if we’re self-employed?
There are a few things I turn to now and it helps.
1 Always review the situation if you must and if you think it’s necessary, and ask for feedback if you can, but don’t go in for in-depth analysis and self-criticism.
2 Remind yourself of your achievements so far. Draw up a list of all your best skills, all the things you’ve been complimented on before. Look at your feedback or testimonials, see the good things clients have said about your work in the past, and remind yourself of how good you are.
3 Whatever you do, don’t spend time alone reliving it and going over it again and again. Isolation is not the solution, surround yourself with love, be around the people who love you the most and who’ll support you and remind you of why you’re worth it.
4 Don’t have long spells of doing nothing until the next job comes along, put yourself in charge, get back on the ‘horse’ right away. Start looking for new clients, write a blog, tidy up your website, offer to guest blog, do some training. Keep yourself busy.
By soothing the pain that rejection inflicts we become less aggressive and angry about it, that in itself can help us to feel better – it makes me feel better. I work to build up my self-esteem, not break it down, that way I lessen the damage it can inflict. Being rejected isn’t the end of the world and you will come across it at some point in your freelance career, but if you learn how to cope with it better, you’ll have a far better chance of having a successful career in the long term.