I got rejected today. Badly. As in 2 years of work that failed to make the cut that my previous work sailed through. An award we won on our first try, didn’t come through for us this time. Even though we were convinced that our latest effort was a big improvement over our first, award winning one. This award wasn’t just some ego boost. When you win this award, a media distributor buys up lots and lots of copies of your record to sell to public libraries. There are very real consequences to winning. I know, I’ve benefited from it before.
I’m not alone in facing rejection. Michael Jordan (a guy who I hear was pretty good at basketball) was cut from his high school hoops team. Joan Jett, who made a little record called “I Love Rock’n’Roll” was rejected by a whopping 26 record labels before deciding to put out that single herself. It later went to #1 and she didn’t have to settle for a tiny percentage royalty of those sales.
I’m not going to lie. The thoughts about giving up making music did make a cameo in my brain as I was brushing my teeth. Amy’s day started on a downward spiral with this disappointing news as well. As the day went on, I gradually came out of this, relying on my habits of doing something constructive each day – sending emails out to fans local to an upcoming show. Reaching out to venues about booking new shows. Thanking journalists who took the time to write stories that included us.
And then I grappled with this article posted by fellow dad Jeff Bogle, who also happens to be a foremost critic in the world of children’s music. The title was “Dear Kids, You Cannot Be Anything You Want.” Of course, that led to a lot of soul searching: Is it time for me to give up the ghost? Pack it in? Expecting that only the more mundane aspects of my existence are worth something? Am I just unnecessarily subjecting myself and my family to the depression and anxiety that come with the failure of wasting my time and expectations?
Then I read between the lines of what Jeff was saying. And I integrated my own experiences into it. And I thought about what I want my own daughter to know about her own dreams and ambitions. What I came up with was this: I’m not about to throw away the 3+ years I’ve spent entertaining you and the kids when something doesn’t go my way. Our family’s mission has deep roots and deep relationships. What I want to teach my child is this: if you have bold ambitions, you will need a thick skin. You’ll need resilience. Because rejection is coming. Over and over again. You’ll watch your peers sail through with a gatekeeper or tastemaker who is not all that interested in you. You’ll watch your friends eat that hot fudge sundae that you wish was yours. Repeatedly.
If you can take that, if you can accept the necessity for other, less appetizing sources of income for years, if not decades, while you gradually develop your passionate “side hustle” and see income slowly trickle in, at first, less than what you spend on it, then yes, you can do what you love for more than just a hobby. Today, our dream, the Jungle Gym Jam is what supplies 25% of our family’s income (thanks, of course to all of you, who bought a concert ticket, an album, or even recommended us to your town library as part of their summer reading program!) – We’re grinding, we’re tough, we’re resilient, we keep trying when we get rejected, and we’re teaching that all to our 5-year-old daughter.
Back to Jeff’s article: If you compare what you and your co-workers are doing to what you said you wanted to do for a living when you were 5, I’m sure maybe one out of every several thousand will say it’s a match. For most of us, our idea of what we want to do for a living has evolved over time, as we figured out what we’re good at, what passions keep coming back to us over and over again, what we’ve actually been paid for and can support a family doing. It doesn’t seem to be an all-or-nothing proposition.
Bob Baker, an author of several books on do-it-yourself creative marketing (for music, self-published books, visual art), says it’s not about that cliché of waiting to be discovered by someone in power who will choose you (a record label exec showing up at your gig to pluck you from obscurity, winning America’s Got Talent, a famous singer discovering you). It’s about you choosing yourself. Every day. Over and over again. It’s about doing all that unglamorous stuff behind the scenes, like building and maintaining an e-mailing list. Posting to Facebook when you don’t feel like it. Following up with that librarian or club owner who hasn’t responded to your last three e-mails about booking a show. Courteously and professionally, not bitterly and desperately.
This is what I want to teach my daughter. Take a real shot at what you want to do with the majority of your time (what you do for a living). Choose yourself. Do all the unglamorous stuff behind the scenes that you wish a big gatekeeper would do for you. Plan for gradual growth of your livelihood and fan base, not a sudden windfall. Do you think Justin Bieber or Britney Spears were emotionally ready for their overnight success? Treat it like a business. Even if you do what you love for a living, you will mostly be doing stuff you don’t like in order to support it. And you will be rejected. Over and over again.
Every time you get back in that arena after a stinging rejection, you are growing a thicker skin and deeper roots. You’re building resilience. You’re building character.
This is what every parent can teach their child.