Rejection and the Freedom to Fail

I’m reading a book called Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled, in which various funny people recall not getting it quite right. As I was reading, it struck me how big a role rejection plays in what we do. Our job is basically a stream of rejection, punctuated by the very occasional stepping stone of success. Our partners reject our ideas. Our creative directors reject our ideas. Our clients reject our ideas. Heck, we even reject most of our own ideas. And success in our careers is determined less by how many successes we have, but more by how we handle all the rejections.

I also heard an interview with the book’s author, Jon Friedman, on The Sound of Young America. He hosts “The Rejection Show,” more or less a live version of his book. And in the interview, he explained how once he started doing the show, he became much bolder in his ideas. Because no longer were his failed ideas simply failures. Now they were material for his show. Having the show released him from fear and gave him greater freedom to just go for it.

The point is that you need to be able to take risks and put yourself out there. You need to have the freedom to fail. You want to work at an agency that allows it as part of its culture. An agency that celebrates the spectacular failures. Even more so, you need to give yourself permission to fail. And when you do fail, when you are rejected, get right the hell back up and fail again.


4 thoughts on “Rejection and the Freedom to Fail

  1. Hi,

    I enjoy your blog a lot. It is definitely a wealth of valuable information and I enjoy reading it from time to time.

    I have a question for you:

    I graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in English Literature. I had always known I wanted to get into advertising, but I decided not to study it because everyone talks about how the degree means nothing in the ad world. After a short stint teaching English abroad, I think I'm ready to start entering the industry (though I'm still not sure if I went to enter the creative or account side of the biz).

    It seems to me that if you don't have connections, the portfolio is everything to start as a creative, and I never had the chance to work on one. I am now greatly considering grad school so I can A) make a portfolio, B) make connections, C) do an internship or two, and D) earn a very valuable degree that only about 3% of Americans have.

    I am rather chary of going to a portfolio school right now. There is something that is decidedly…shady…about spending lots of money and time on a school that does nothing for you outside of the world of advertising and is not considered an accredited degree, unlike a Master of Science in Communication. That is, even if you decide NOT to get into advertising, an M.S. in Comm. from a major university is recognized anywhere. Perhaps I have to be convinced that it would be smart to go, but I don't know.

    My question is, do you have any recommendations for graduate programs at universities that offer a creative curriculum, particularly in copywriting? I have heard good things about University of Texas and VCU Brandcenter; but do you know of any others? And do you have any more advice concerning advertising and studies?

    I appreciate any help/advice you may have.




  2. Nicholas-

    Thanks for the compliments.

    As for your question, since it's on a different topic, I'll answer it in an new post in the next couple days. It's a pretty common question.



  3. Hi, Nick.

    If you want to get into advertising, portfolio school really is the way to do it. Honestly, I'm not sure how else you build a quality book without the kind of instruction, culture and camaraderie you get in a solid portfolio school.

    There are a bunch out there. Some are great. Some are just okay. It really depends on what you're looking for.

    Jim and I are both graduates of the VCU Brandcenter and can't say enough good about it. It was expensive, and it took two years, but the ROI on it was pretty huge. You get a masters degree, but that's never been a factor in my career.

    I've got a lot of friends who came out of the Miami Ad School and Creative Circus who have solid books and landed great jobs. No masters degrees, but they're doing campaigns that are written about in Creativity and Ad Age.

    Chicago Portfolio School is only a year (most others are two), and is considerably less expensive, but you really have to be dedicated and driven. Not a lot of hand holding there.

    Check out the latest issue of Creativity. Every year they review all the major portfolio schools and give you their strengths and weaknesses.

    If I were you, I'd read that. Then send out for information. Then apply. Then see which one fits your needs best.

    Feel free to drop us a line with any other questions.

    Good luck.



  4. Nevermind. Greg said pretty much everything I was going to say. The only thing I'd add is that, if you really want a degree (if you want to do something in another industry–e.g. teaching–someday), then you can go to VCU or Texas, which also has a good program.

    Visit the schools. You'll get a feel for them pretty quickly.


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