forbesThe other day, I went to see the new film by Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

It’s bleak. My husband and I walked out of the film, shaking our heads.  It’s the tale of a struggling folk singer, Llewyn Davis, set in Greenwich Village in 1961. And the music touches your heart–yearning, soulful, weary, sweet–it pulls at you, and lingers.

But failure is the mist that prevails.

There’s one scene I can’t get out of my mind. In it, Davis plays a song for a music promoter. After listening attentively, the promoter simply says: “I don’t see a lot of money here.”

The producer not only bluntly rejects him, but also gives a glowing review of a younger, less experienced performer, who Davis has met and judged to be limited in his talent.

Then, in an attempt to offer help, perhaps, he suggests Davis change his dream, to team up with a partner, or form a trio.

Davis pauses quietly to absorb the cutting commentary. And then slowly packs up his guitar and heads out into the snow of Chicago to make his trek back to New York City and perhaps to quit his dream once and for all. (You’ll have to see the movie to see how this plays out.)

It reminded me about how much stomach-turning rejection you have to take to achieve your dreams (and to land a job). I sure have as a writer–both from book acquisition editors, who  “pass” with stinging commentary on proposals, to no-go pitches as a freelancer, and so on.

You take it personally, especially if what you do is creative. But you can’t let it stop you.  And, truth is, you usually learn something from the rejection, but maybe not for a while. That’s my experience.

I think those of us who make a successful run at our dreams and start a new venture, or our own businesses, are the ones who have learned to weather rejection. There are plenty of examples of career changers who have done just that in my upcoming paperback, What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond, to be published by Berkley/Penguin in April.

I learned to deal with rejection by staring at streams. I pictured myself as the water, finding a way to move around the rock of rejection or a big limb and moving on, maybe a little slower at first, or changing course a bit, but then growing stronger, as I joined up with a pool of water that embraced me, carried me along, and pushed me onward.

That analogy is a little much maybe, but I honestly never look at a running stream without flashing to the notion of how much a stream is like our career journeys. I have stared at a lot of mountain streams over the last decade. Maybe you have too.

Here are my six tips on how to deal with “Llewyn Davis”-style rejection.

 1. Believe in yourself. All it takes is one “yes,” amidst all the noise and the “nos,” to give you hope, get you going, reenergize your dream.

Having a thick skin does wonders, but let’s be honest, that’s easier said than done. The better bet is to have done your homework and research. That will give you the inner confidence to know you’re on the right path.

Positive feedback from others will help ease the initial slap. Please, don’t allow one person to shatter your dreams. No one should have that much power over your life.

How would the film’s super hip and uber-successful music producer T Bone Burnett describe the Davis character as an artist at that time?  “Well, I would say he was very good. I mean, really good,” he tells CBS reporter Anthony Mason in a segment on CBS Sunday Morning. In my “movie,” the fictional Davis would move on to meet another producer who does see “money” in his music as the modern Burnett seems to.

2. Develop resilience. Cultivate a net of positive relationships in your life. Don’t wait until there’s crisis, but start now to methodically extend your circle, says Beverly Jones, an executive coach and president of Clearways Consulting LLC. Recruit mentors and find ways to mentor others. Look for ways to support friends, colleagues and even casual business acquaintances. And know that they will be there to accept, support and inspire you during the hard times. These are things Davis’ character did not do. Read Six Key Steps to Career Resilience for more help from Jones.

3. Put a personal support team in place. Having someone like a spouse, best friend, sibling, or even an adult child to talk to is hard to put a value on, but it makes a difference emotionally when you have take a blow. It can keep you centered and moving forward one step at a time.

4. Look up. Let it go. Visualize your success three years hence. Draw it. Write it down in a vision statement. Tape it on your desk. Then make a list of all the good bits in every aspect of your life, not just work. Even when you’re tangled up in a career catastrophe you will feel stronger and think clearly, if you can keep the big picture in mind.

5. Manage your financial expectations. If you’re starting a new business, you can’t go into it expecting a strong profit right off the bat. You should swing for the fences, of course. But you have to be content knowing that the pleasure and real success will come from what you’re doing and not from how much you’re making.

At least initially, that is. It often takes a few years for a new business to get traction, and you may never make as much as you once did in your first act. That’s why it pays to be in good financial shape ahead of time.

6. Keep a gratitude list of intangible successes. These are moments of connection with customers, or in Davis’ case, it might be an instant flash when his eyes connect with someone in the club audience, who is clearly captivated by his music.

Remember all of the little trimmings that come along with starting off on your own that balance out the rejection. That might be something as ephemeral as the freedom to not ask permission from a boss to take the day off to spend with your eighty-four-year-old mother on her birthday. It might mean the wonder of losing yourself utterly in the zone of your work.

This is your special currency. Recognize it. Enjoy it. And be grateful for it. No one can take that from you.

You may realize one day, sometimes years later, that rejection while harsh at the time, was, in truth, protection, from taking the wrong path, or working with the wrong person.

It frees you.

Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon I’m the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available at


Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon
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