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Creative Career Coach: Rejection Without Dejection

Everyone faces rejection, which is part of the career journey; it’s what you do after getting turned down that makes the difference.

“I’m sorry to say so but sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

- Dr. Seuss, "Oh the Places You’ll Go!"

Theodor Seuss Geisel, who was born 120 years ago on March 2, published over 60 children’s books. His work, which has been translated into 20 different languages, has sold over 220 million copies around the world. Dr. Seuss' honors include two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and the Pulitzer Prize. The first book that he both wrote and illustrated, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” was rejected 27 times before being published by Vanguard Press in 1937.

Rejection is part of the journey to becoming an artist. Whether you are auditioning, pitching, or interviewing, rejection is part of the process. Everyone faces rejection. It’s what you do after rejection that makes the difference.

John Musker was rejected from Disney’s training program because his animal drawings were "too stiff." (He had drawn them from the animal exhibits at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.) John didn’t give up. He created a portfolio of comics and submitted it to Marvel. Another rejection. John persevered. He applied to a new character animation program at Cal Arts that would be taught by veteran Disney animators. He was admitted. He started at Disney as an intern a few years later. 

John worked as a character animator on The Fox and the Hound in 1981 and met Ron Clements. John worked as a story artist with Ron on The Black Cauldron (1985). When Ron and John's ideas on Black Cauldron were being rejected left and right by the other directors, Ron pitched an adaptation of Eve Titus’ children’s book series Basil of Baker Street. Ron Clements, John Musker, Dave Michener and Burny Mattinson were credited as directors on The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and the film became a vehicle for the new generation of animators like Glen Keane, Mark Henn, and Rob Minkoff.        


Musker and Clements experienced both rejection and acclaim together. At first Disney executives rejected both of Clements’ pitches - an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's “The Little Mermaid” and a high-concept idea of “Treasure Island in Space” (Treasure Planet). Both were eventually made* but not without more rejection.

The pair also directed Aladdin (1992), Hercules (1997), The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Moana (2016). Since retiring from Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2018, Musker directed the animated short, I’m Hip, which was shortlisted for an Oscar, and was one of 36 films picked from more than 3,200 submissions selected to be screened at Annecy in summer 2023. Musker completed animating I’m Hip by hand in 2023. Not bad for someone who was rejected from Disney’s training program.

Believe in yourself, even if others don't. The sculptor Auguste Rodin failed to be admitted to art school three times. Luckily, he didn't think the art school admissions people were right and we can celebrate his creations such as "The Thinker" today.

Don't let rejection stop you. Roadblocks may slow you down, and you may have to take a detour every now and then to get around obstacles. Keep your eyes open for opportunities along the way and learn something new, even on detours. Just keep your goal in mind and never stop pursuing your passions.

Years ago, an aspiring actor was told by a well-known and respected casting director that he would never make it and that he should give up acting and do something else. He didn't listen to this "authority" discouraging him from pursuing his passion and Dustin Hoffman became an Academy Award-winning actor.

Never let any authority dissuade you from pursuing what you love to do.

"You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck," Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, told an aspiring musician and singer in 1954. That former truck driver went on to sell over one billion records around the world and received 14 Grammy nominations with three wins. He is commonly known as the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.

Job hunting can be challenging and frustrating. Often it feels as if your job applications are just being sucked into a black hole and everyone is rejecting you. Acknowledge your disappointments but don’t dwell on them. Move on to knocking on the next door and the next and the next. Eventually, one will open.

Rejection can even be beneficial. If the employer is open to giving you feedback about the interview or why you were not selected, treat it like the treasure it is.  Adjust your interview technique or demo reel or marketing materials if the feedback sounds legitimate.  If the employer needs a skill you don’t currently have, find a way to acquire that skill if you want to pursue that career. 

Don’t harbor resentment towards any employer who rejects you. Don’t make any negative comments on social media about a company - you might apply to that company in the future. Sometimes a rejection can turn into a job later. Once I interviewed for a job and that employer called me more than a year later to find out if I might still be interested.

All creative people with talent experience rejection.  Believe in your talent, not the opinions of would-be employers.  One day, your opportunity will appear.  Your job is to be ready to take advantage of it when it happens.

Resource: “Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography” by Judith and Neil Morgan, published by Random House

* The Little Mermaid was released in 1989 and Treasure Planet was released in 2002 only 17 years after it was first pitched and rejected.


As a creative career coach and recruiter, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson helps animators, visual effects artists, writers, and others in creative fields to design a life that they love. For personal one-on-one recruiting, contact her at Her new website is at Her picture book The Horse Who Wanted to Fly will be published by Firefly Books in fall 2024.