Rejection – the “Downside” of Competitions

So, you’ve applied to an opportunity.  You have either heard nothing, seen a press release with the winners’ names (none of which are yours), or received an email indicating that you were not selected.

You were rejected.

If you’re like most of us, this keeps happening.  The rejections keep piling up.  No matter if you are accepted to 1 of 100 opportunities, it still feels as if you are always rejected.  And some of us are indeed rejected for every thing, I am sure.

So, that really sucks.  There is no point in sugarcoating.  Trying your best to achieve something, to gain a new opportunity, to advance yourself, and to only to get nothing, is a terrible feeling.

And that’s just it.  The first step is to feel your feelings.


The funny thing about rejection is that it can be profoundly crippling, but also incredibly uplifting.  Yes, you have to get used to it, and it toughens you up, but in the end there is something greater to gain.  There is a sense of purpose and self-discovery that rejection affords.

Each year I apply to the ASCAP and BMI competitions that I am eligible for (see my prior blog post on ASCAP and BMI competitions).  I get rejected every time.  Sometimes in the rejection letter they will indicate that I was a “finalist”, but that’s the furthest I have gotten.  And while that isn’t ideal, and I deserve no pity for such (and I am not writing this for pity), these competition applications and rejections have helped me immensely.

For one, I have to deal with very tough emotions and questions.  Am I not good enough?  Am I a failure?  Do I even deserve success?  Should I not be doing this?  What pride I must have to think I could even place in these competitions!  My music must not be as good as the winners’.  My style must not be modern enough.  Am I uninformed about the canon, current trends, and key movements?

And, frankly, the answer to many of these questions is for me “Yes, for now”:

Am I not good enough?  Yes, for now; but I cannot let my efforts stop.  Am I a failure? Yes, for now.  I did fail, after all.  (But, I am not doomed to fail in the future.)  Do I even deserve success?  Yes, for now, but that doesn’t mean I should expect it or feel entitled to it.  Should I not be doing this? Yes, for now.  Failures are good times to pause and re-evaluate one’s efforts.  Am I uninformed about the canon, current trends, and key movements?  Yes, for now.  I admittedly have some catching-up to do.

By being honest with yourself, confronting your emotions and your ego, but not giving up on yourself, rejections become opportunities to realize what your weak spots are “for now”, what you will get better at, but also what really matters to you–i.e. what you really care about.

In his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F—, author Mark Manson speaks to what we really care about and what we don’t, by boiling things down to core values.  And failure and rejection can really expose your core values.

So, if you are honest with yourself, confront your emotions and your ego, find your core values, and then keep applying for opportunities with eyes wide open, you will find that each rejection is a chance.  It is a chance to evaluate your current work, but also examine whether you really give a damn about that competition and that person’s or panel’s opinion.

As I like to quote my film scoring professor, Mark Orton, “I’m just some guy from Oregon.”  We all have opinions, and sometimes it’s best to not really care if you get rejected; just keep on applying.  If you get accepted, that’s great!  If not, evaluate what you can do better, and move on.  You will feel feelings of shame, regret, sadness, fear, and hollowness.  But, in the end, as The Dude from The Big Lebowski states;


In the end…

In the end, my countless rejections and few successes have made me hone my style by determining whose opinions I listen to and who I want to be when I present my work to the world.  So, not only have rejections helped me find and strengthen my core values, as well as hardened my resolve and ability to experience suffering, but they have helped me hone my style so that I am proud of each work I produce, whether I send it it to a competition or not, and whether it is accepted or not.

I encourage you to do the same.  Or, please do ignore what I am saying.  Maybe you need to find your own path more than listen to someone else.  After all, I’m just some guy from Hartford.

2 thoughts on “Rejection – the “Downside” of Competitions

  1. Pingback: References in Professional Development – Composer's Toolbox

  2. Pingback: Where to find score calls and competitions – Composer's Toolbox

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