How to Redesign Rejection into Success

NO is a tough teacher

 

Has this happened to you?

Someone says no to you.

A foundation turns your proposal down.

You get a bad review, negative comments on your work.

You get no response to your work.

Nobody is coming to your show.

You can’t sell your work.

 

Getting a NO or a rejection letter is lousy.

Rejection can have serious implications for an person’s psychological state and for society in general.

Researchers say, the rejected should seek out healthy, positive connections with friends and family.

That recommendation squares with the neural evidence that shows positive social interactions release opioids for a natural mood boost, says Naomi Eisenberger, PhD, at the University of California.

 

At our recent awards ceremony, I spoke to an artist who invited me to his upcoming performance.

“Please send us information about this so we can put it on our promotional calendar, “ I said.

“Oh, but I didn’t get a grant this year,” he said.  “I came because I want to support my artist community and to feel what it is like to be among the grantwinners.”

He smiled and disappeared into the crowd.  

I expect to see him at next year’s awards ceremony as one of the grantwinners.  What he did was a positive step in getting beyond the NO and doing some strategic networking and marketing for his career.

To be an artist and put your work out into the world, you have to accept a reality that is polarized by a spectrum of human interaction with acceptance on one end and rejection on the other end.

We are hardwired to crave acceptance, belonging, being part of something. Perhaps that has something to do with our instinct for survival. Isolation and death are persuasive incentives.

When we are faced with rejection, we let NO destroy us because we have attached our sense of self worth, esteem, accomplishment to a decision someone else will make.   We fall hard, crushed by the weight of everything we have attached to this decision.  We have given up our power.

Unless you have a very tough skin, you will feel terrible when you get a NO.  Add that 2:00 am voice of self doubt and your own inner critic – you know that you are your own worst critic – and you will probably not sleep and wake up ready to chuck your dreams out the window.

Dealing with rejection is not easy.  It can be made worse by the words and behaviors of others and how you deal with it.  But, being mindful of how you control your thinking and experience of it can restore your inner strength and sense of well being.  

There are many reasons behind a NO that have nothing to do to with you or your self worth.  Here are 3 common examples:

Not yet – Sometimes foundations prefer observing you before they fund you.  This is a usually an internal decision that may or may not appear in their guidelines.  

Not the right fit – It is not what they are looking for.

Not this time – A funder may have given a grant award to a project similar to yours last year.  Their priorities may have changed so they will, for example, choose to fund artists like you but in a different part of the country.

Think of it this way: “you” personally, are not being rejected, it is the other person that is declining what you have to offer.  Don’t personalize rejection.

Take each NO as a chance to learn a little more about the decision maker.  A NO is a perfect opportunity to pick up the phone and ask for panel comments.  I do this as a matter of course for every grant I get as well as for every grant I don’t get.

Here’s what works for me:
Crumble up into a ball

Take whatever time you need to absorb NO.  Let your body and your mind take it all in.  I like to think of it like the beginning of making a pearl.

Just how does a pearl get started?

An irritant enters the mollusk either when it is open or sometimes it actually burrows through the shell from the outside. As the irritant enters the mollusk, in order for it to be the cause of a new pearl, it must pick up some of the mollusk’s mantle tissue on the way into the inside of the mollusk. It’s the mantle tissue that forms a pearl sac.

So…do you think you could start taking irritants in your life and turn them into beautiful pearls? What a challenge! And the humble, lowly mollusk’s lead the way in this miraculous process.

 

Take lots of deep breaths

Energize your inner mollusk

 

Re define No

I spoke to a group of MFA students recently and asked if any of them had success in writing grants.  A few raised their hands.  Then, I asked, “What did you write the grant for?”

“I needed the money.”

“I wanted to get famous.”

The usual answers.

One student raised his hand and said, “I wanted to focus my writing.”

He wrote grant proposals because they forced him to distill his thinking and be clear about everything that goes into making art like putting together a reasonable budget, marketing, a workplan, etc.  

I admire his understanding of the grant process as a long term game and his willingness to use this process as practice.  If he continues to do this, 2 things will happen: he will become a better grant writer who will win grant awards and he will gain more focus and clarity in developing his business skills as a working artist.

He wins whether he gets the grant or not.

No can be many things including:

Not you personally

Not yet

Not quite

Not for you

The most important thing to do is to lighten the weight of NO by detaching your sense of self worth, your self esteem and your belief in yourself.  Redefine what that NO is.  Maybe it is just a writing exercise for an MFA student.  

I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.

 Sylvester Stallone

Move on

When someone asks you how you are, simply say, “I’m fine.”

If pressed further, I suggest you take some advice from Austin Kleon and say,

No, everything’s fine. Why do you ask?

(When one is distressed, one either has to take a walk, or do like Paul Klee and “take a line for a walk.”)

Get out. Get some fresh air.

Repeat as needed

You will be just fine.

How Do You Respond to Fear – Fight or Flight…or Fright?

pencil instagram (1)“When we perceive a significant threat to us, then our bodies get ready either for a fight to the death or a desperate flight from certain defeat.”

You know the drill:

A threat is perceived

The autonomic nervous system automatically puts body on alert.

The adrenal cortex automatically releases stress hormones.

The heart automatically beats harder and more rapidly.

Breathing automatically becomes more rapid.

Thyroid gland automatically stimulates the metabolism.

Larger muscles automatically receive more oxygenated blood.

 

For me, it is not being able to breathe.  The walls falling and trapping me.  I skip fight and flight and plunge headfirst into fright.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear a voice whispering weakly, “Everything will be fine,” but my heart is beating so fast and so loud that I don’t hear anything.  And I don’t believe it.

That’s when it happens.  That awful black hole of despair in the pit of my soul begins to swallow every last bit of hope and I crumble.  Everything closes in.

I am so overcome with terror that I am paralyzed with fear.  People who know me are familiar with how I deal with bad, scary things.

Give me 24 hours and I will be fine.  Slowly, but surely, my mind clear, my back uncurls and I can stare back at whatever it was that terrified me.

This is the way my body has decided to react to threatening situations.

No matter how I try to fight or run away, this is how I process fear.

I often wish that deep breathing or some other stress reducing exercise would work to get me out of feeling so overwhelmed. But when I think about each time this has happened to me, I realize that my coping skills have become stronger and what knocked me for a loop doesn’t quite have the same punch the second time around.  It takes a bigger, scarier thing to get to me.

What really works for me is holding a pencil.  Something I can write my way out of my hell.

It feels like a lifeline and a weapon at the same time.  A way to plot my path back on my terms.  Truthfully, I never read what I have written afterwards. This kind of writing is more like shedding layers, not poetry.

So there you have it.

If you stumble across someone curled up in a ball, give her a pencil.  She will appreciate your understanding it is just her way of getting to the light.

Whatever your process is, honor it and become aware of what is going on in your mind and body.  Fight, flight or fright, the more you resist, the longer it will take you to get through it.  Accept it and let it take its course.

I am amazed that some people think I am fearless.  They admire my ability to stay calm under fire.  This makes me wonder if all of my heroes are actually going through the same internal roller coaster I am.

That is a comforting thought.  I feel better already.

 

 

I am an Artist and… an Interview with Dan Corson

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This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

What could be better than making art that can truly touch people in the rush and tumble of their daily lives? To startle someone into an unexpected moment of joy?

I believe artists do this naturally. However, to make a life around creating art that changes peoples’ lives often requires other skills and mindsets that are not taught in MFA programs or art schools.

Dan Corson, an internationally recognized artist, says the creative process is a lens he sees the world through whether he is making art or making dinner.

He is an internationally recognized artist whose large-scale immersive installations and public artworks are infused with drama, passion, layered meanings and transform from day to night in mesmerizing ways. His projects have ranged from complex rail stations and busy public intersections to quiet interpretive buildings, meditation chambers and galleries.

Who are you? How do you self identify?

Really just as an artist and creator first (possibly an entrepreneur) and small business person second..

As a one-man band, I wear a lot of hats: artist, admin, webmaster, CFO, accounting, project manager, research assistant, experimenter, development director, PR director, coffee maker, shipping coordinator, copywriter, arts translator: from art-speak in museums and galleries to talking to structural engineers, architects, electrical engineers, programmers to public presentations.

There is great joy in creating artwork, but being a professional artist means that either I spend my time doing these supporting jobs or I pay someone (reducing my income) to do these jobs.

It all depends on how big of an “art studio” you want to employ and manage, and for me it worked best to keep many things in house.

Tell me, what are the benefits/ challenges of being both an artist and an administrator?

Having drive, perseverance, curiosity, and the ability to improvise and “make things up” that you don’t know how to do is critical.

No one taught me many of the things I now do – so if someone from a standard business practice came in to take over, I am sure they would really scratch their heads in figuring out my business process – but somehow it works for me.

Also being good at tracking and multitasking and being able to juggle lots of projects over wide timelines has been critical.

I think at my max I was working on 16 projects at once that were spanning 11 years in fabrication/installation schedules. It all depends on what your art is of course, but for me I focused on creating large-scale integrated and stand alone artworks and installations.

I had to teach myself how to run a business, and figure out a process that worked for me bringing these pieces from my brain into reality.

The interest and desire to challenge yourself is also crucial to keeping things fresh, and interesting for your artistic evolution.

Artists come to creative solutions in nonstandard ways and think a little bit differently to solve problems.

Balance is really important. For an art project, I spend 35% of my time with a pure art focus on art making. 65% of the time is making stuff happen – fabrication, contracts, supervising test samples, checking colors etc. Some of that you could think of as being part of making art.

Regarding my work/life balance – I am married, I live a normal life meaning I try to work normal hours unless I am under a deadline.

One of my challenges early on was being so focused on my art and not on my partner.

As an artist, it is so easy to get in the zone and let the creative juices flow. I needed to be reminded we have a life together.

How we worked that out was by communicating. Sometimes when creativity calls, it is just not convenient and it is really important to say, “Can you give me 2 hours, please?”

One of the challenges of working with public funds to create artwork is that there are other people involved who make decisions, cancel things or put projects on hold.

The benefit is that I can use resources from agencies to realize my artistic vision and work on a scale that would be impossible for me to do with my own money and resources.

Having the public as your employer and your audience is a very different experience from showing in a museum or a gallery. I get loving emails and letters from school kids and people who have been moved by my art. People actually seek me out because they want to tell me this.

I was listening to the radio one day and a guy called in who said, “I was super depressed, suicidal, and just walking around the city when I saw some artwork on the underside of an underpass. It was beautiful. It made me feel like someone cared about this space and environment and me. That literally stopped me from taking my life that day – this level of caring.

What he saw was a piece of my art. This is why I love doing what I do.

What are you working on now?

I have a handful of projects around the country and 2 projects installing in Canada this year.

One of those projects is composed of 2 room-sized teardrop sculptures that you can enter and use as an art weather shelter and spin around in like a teacup ride.

I am developing a new project in the Bay area that is composed of large 2 sculptural pieces on a private development adjacent to a BART station – that will be animated by the trains approaching.

Where can people follow your work?

First off they can visit my website to see images and videos of them and find out in what city they can find them: www.corsonart.com

A few representative projects: in San Jose: Sensing YOU and Sensing WATER are activated by people moving through the space and by weather events and can also be “hacked” by playing the augmented reality cellphone game INGRESS.

Adjacent to the Seattle Space Needle is a large solar, and sound sculpture called Sonic Bloom.

In Oakland CA, there is a large color-shifting wall sculpture called Shifting Topographies that changes color by the angle of the sun, and has kinetic projections on it at night that conjures the drama of the adjacent theatres and night clubs.

What advice do you have for people who make art and/or make art happen?

1. Keep your focus on the art- it can be easy to be bogged down in running your business.

2. Keep your monthly overhead as low as you can….Do you really NEED that big fancy studio, or can you rent or borrow one for a month or 2 when you need to mock something large up?

3. If you are not good at accounting and taxes, get someone else to do it and spend that time working on your artwork. You don’t want to get into fights with the IRS if you are not knowledgeable about the tax system.

4. If it bores you….don’t keep doing it…..that boredom will be infused into the artwork. Not necessarily the process of making the work -which can be labor intensive, but rather when you see the finished artwork does it still excite you? Will it be something that as an outsider will you find exciting/interesting/moving/curious/titillating etc.

5. Know your art history….and not just ancient art history (although that is important), but know about things in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s so you don’t re-create work that has been already done (without knowing it at least).

6. Keep an “art morgue” (a folder where you clip electronically and/or physically images that excite/ affect you strongly/ make you curious / love, or hate someone else for making because it is so smart…etc) We all get dry on ideas, and having an inspiration folder will remind you to take a new fresh at the work you are doing.

7. Time to be an adult and think about the future: start that retirement fund TODAY. Start that IRA. Alternatively, I know one artist who made 2 studio works for every one he sold. He put one in a container on his property as his “rainy day fund” for retirement to sell off in his retirement. This of course works fine if you become well known and sell well. Anyway, you are not immortal and you should be squirreling away funds for future- and doing it throughout your carrier.

8. Documentation: Remember good photos are VERY IMPORTANT to selling your work and experience. They say you are “serious” and will help the client/gallery be able to take the leap to hire you because it is presented it in a compelling, professional way. If you want to save money over your career, take some photography/video lessons, borrow a good camera before you buy one and do your own photography- if you are good at that….if not, spend the cash or barter for professional pictures of your work.

9. Keep true to developing your perspective/voice that you are passionate about. Even if you don’t see that through line of your artwork now, if you are true to yourself and keep on working on things that excite you, towards the middle or end of your career, it will become clear where you came from and point you towards your trajectory.

Bring joy and your creative process in your day to day life. I am a gardener and I love cooking and baking. Anyone can find that creative expression in some part of their life, some joy that comes from their creative process.

Think about how you and your inner artist can make something better.

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

How to Feed Your Inner Artist and Create Joy

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This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Loukas owns the Honeybee Farm in Troy, New York.

Most days, you will find him stirring a pot of soup or chatting with locals over coffee and a homemade muffin in his small shop tucked in the middle of a block of emerging businesses.

He lights up when you ask him about the local, natural foods he offers.

And the cheeses that he makes.

They are hand crafted with names like Tuscan Sunset, Pur Chevre and my favorite, Schoharie Caverns Wild Bloom, which is a Honeybee Farm special.

Can you get artisanal breads and farm to table foods elsewhere?

Of course, this is upstate New York, where you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting an urban city person who has escaped midtown Manhattan for the weekend. This is what they expect to find.

And you will get all of that plus something only Loukas can give.

An experience of joy.

It is there in every product in his shop. Every item has a story and a connection to a choice he made several years ago to choose a life that gave him purpose, fulfillment, a sense of being connected with people and joy.

He left a demanding job in the city and moved his family to Schoharie county where he says, “We have a number of creative, resourceful, talented individuals that take on the challenge of hard work, dedication and creativity daily, and develop wholesome, quality, artisanal products, for which they pride themselves in.”

He is passionate about what he does.

He is driven to create something, to make something with his hands everyday.

He shares and sells his work.

Doesn’t that sound like the dream of every artist?

Loukas has fed his inner artist and created a joyful life around the idea of bringing local, natural foods from his farm to you.

What if I’m not an artist?

“Creativity is the intellectual ability to make creations, inventions, and discoveries that brings novel relations, entities, and/or unexpected solutions into existence. Creativity is a gifted ability of humans in thinking, inference, problem solving, and product development,” says Yingxu Wang, Professor of Software and Brain Science at the University of Calgary.

Humans are creative creatures.

The opportunity to be creative is everywhere.

Loukas was not trained as a farmer. However, he saw a need in connecting local farmers and artisans directly with their customers. His inner artist was inspired to make that happen.

What makes him an artist is what he makes with what he produces on the farm and what he brings of himself as “a guy from a Greek neighborhood in Astoria, Queens.”

The only difference between you and and the ones who call themselves artists is that they realize how creativity defines them and everything they do.

How to feed your inner artist

“Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my inner world.

Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable.

Everything feeds into my creativity,” says Twyla Tharp, the dancer and choreographer.

Loukas created the Honeybee Farm around this idea of bringing fresh food from the farms to people. His passion for what he makes attracts other like minded artists and people both as suppliers and customers.

By listening to his inner artist he has created a way to make life better as well as his own recipe for happiness.

Think about how you and your inner artist can make something better.

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Hoong Yee

20140603_142704

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.