Sara Duchovnay, soprano

Official website of soprano Sara Duchovnay

Dealing with Rejection in 2019

Photo credit: Suzanne Vinnik

Photo credit: Suzanne Vinnik

An entire decade ago, I decided that if I were going to seriously pursue this opera career thing, I had to find some way to embrace rejection. I developed a plan wherein I would collect my rejection letters and reward myself when I reached 50. In 2013 I reached that first milestone and wrote the very first iteration of this blog post, which I published on my personal blog. In 2015, I published a reader’s digest version of the same post for another website, and received countless emails and messages from singers who were inspired to adopt my system for themselves. When I read back on both posts, part of me just has to laugh! I can’t believe that I felt qualified to write about rejection at those early points in my career, when I had only experienced a small taste of what it is actually like to live with the habitual occupational rejection that accompanies life as a performer! My younger self was actually onto something though! I’m incredibly proud of my system and it continues to work for me. I am proud to say that I have now been rejected more times than my teenage mind could ever fathom, and I’m still standing here ready to be rejected some more.

How it all began:

My voice teacher in undergrad once told me a story about how when she was a young singer living in New York, she was rejected so often that she was able to use her rejection letters to wallpaper her bathroom. The wallpaper idea was cute, but in my opinion it lacked actual payoff. Also, did she own that apartment? If not, how was she willing to risk losing her security deposit for such a stunt? I decided that I would set a rejection goal, and when I reached that goal, I would reward myself by buying something very special that I would treasure forever. It would be something that I would gaze at when I was feeling down or lacking motivation, and it would remind me of the challenges I had faced and overcome. From the very beginning, my idea for this reward was always jewelry. If there is something that I enjoy almost as much as getting hired, it’s getting diamonds.

Here are two major tenets of my system:

1. A freelance career is a numbers game! It is a given that we are all prepared, talented, wonderful, unique, and bursting with our own special magic. We’re still likely to experience a good deal of rejection because only one of the many qualified people who auditioned for that role will be getting that role. Putting ourselves out there to be rejected is simply part of our job.

2. It is totally ok to reward yourself for not “succeeding”! Getting the gig already feels great. You don’t need to reward yourself for that...that’s the easy part! The hard part is being rejected and continuing to put yourself out there again and again. How many people go through what we go through on a regular basis? Treat yourself! You deserve it!

If you want to start your own Rejection Reward System, here’s what you’ll need:

1. A shiny new email folder marked “rejection letters”

2. A shiny new savings account or one you already have. The important detail is that it must only be used for this one purpose. You cannot just dip into it whenever you want. You ABSOLUTELY cannot use it toward application/pianist/room rental expenses and/or work-related travel!

3. Rejections

Each time you get rejected- be it in the form of an actual rejection emails from a program or company, feedback from an agent, or just that enough time has passed that you can safely assume that you did not get the gig- contribute some money to your rejection savings account. Feel free to add a larger or smaller amount each time, depending on the sting of the rejection and the current state of your finances. When, and only when you reach 50 rejections, you may use the money that you have collected to treat yourself to something special. You can celebrate the fact that after 50 rejections, you are still standing tall, resolute, committed to your career, and ready to be rejected another 50 times!

What I’ve realized through many cycles of this process is that the biggest benefit is not in the material reward. If I’m being honest, my collection of jewelry is pretty baller and I don’t hate that perk; but the true benefit is in the mere act of collecting and analyzing the rejection notes. In my rejection emails, I often write myself notes about what I sang, what I wore, what I ate before, and how I felt. Sometimes I write objectives for my next audition. If I received feedback in or after the audition, I write that down too. There is always the temptation to put the rejection as far out of my mind as possible, but if I had done that I would have missed out on very useful data. Because I have kept careful records and analyzed my rate of success-to-rejection, I’ve learned that if I put myself out there enough times, I will eventually find success. There have been times when I’ve seen my ratio of success-to-rejection improve dramatically, and there have been times that it feels like all rejections and no success. In the latter case, I’ve been able to analyze my rejection notes to look for patterns and figure out what I can try to do differently. After my last cycle of rejections, during which I unsuccessfully tried to squeeze my voice into the coloratura and soubrette rep I had sung in my early 20s, I analyzed my rejection notes, made the switch into more lyric repertoire, and was able to reward myself with a stunning pair of earrings. #winning!

So go forth and get rejected, my loves! It’s part of the job, it’s rarely personal, and you have rewards to earn!

© Sara Duchovnay 2018