Lessons learned from my last 1,200 job rejections

I believe in building a brand from the inside out. Creating a high enough volume of daily output that the market targets you. Allowing new opportunities to find you through the attraction of working, not the agony of waiting.

That’s how I’ve successfully run my business for the past fifteen years.

But as an experiment, as a way of testing my own system, I recently spent a summer doing the exact opposite. Filling out job applications, responding to proposals, going on interviews, meeting with recruiters, submitting my portfolio for freelance gigs and seeking out new work opportunities.

By the end of the summer, I had been rejected over twelve hundred times.

Twelve hundred times.

And despite my best efforts, not a single one of those opportunities came to fruition. But as disappointing as the process was, I learned key lessons about career management. Next time you get rejected from a job application, remember these tenants:

1. Don’t spend too much time crossing your fingers.

Waiting around for some invisible jury to stamp your creative passport and tell you that your work is okay is no way to live your life. It creates negative momentum. Each one of those twelve hundred rejections, while only marginally painful in isolation, added up pretty quickly. And by the end of the summer, I was starting to get disillusioned. I knew that the hour I spent each day looking for work would have been better invested creating, instead of waiting around for people to give me the opportunity to show them how creative I was. So I stopped. I ended the experiment and went back to doing what I do best. Making things. And literally within a week, I booked two new clients and a major network television interview. Are you crossing your fingers or using them to create your art?

2. We all leave behind a trail of fail.

I’ve written books that never sold, launched websites that were ignored, delivered performances that bombed, produced videos that were snubbed, executed products that tanked, even pitched a few television shows that were laughed at. Big deal. Creativity doesn’t exist without failure. If you can’t fail, it doesn’t count. Failure is fertilizer. It’s what makes us work harder, which makes us get better. And as long as we keep getting better, we become successful eventually. Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen if we did fail? People who never tried get to laugh at us? Failure means we risked failure. Doing something makes us right. For the next generation of workers, their job it is to fail, repeatedly, until they don’t. What have your failures and missteps qualified you to do?

3. Beware of procrastination in disguise.

Failure in work doesn’t come from poor planning, it comes from the timidity to proceed. Planning is a four-letter word. It’s just another way to manufacture mental monsters that keep you from achieving. I have colleagues who have been planning to write, literally for a decade. But because they spend all their energy talking about their ideas, when the time comes to execute those ideas, they’ve already depleted all their stamina reserves. It infuriates me. Don’t let it happen to you. Whatever your career goals are, stop planning. Try this. Instead of making a To Do List, make an “I Did List,” where you document everything you executed, each day. Think of it as a visual record of progress to spark your momentum. Are you making goods out of your ideas or gods out of your plans?

Ultimately, rejection and failure are part of the process and indications that you’re making progress. With these key insights, hopefully it won’t happen to you twelve hundred times.