As the adage goes, “you are only as good as your last show.”  It applies to not just the theater, but to just about everything in life: last game, last speech, last job review.  It can be so easy to let the most recent success or failure define our worth and sabotage our stories. Check out this video to see how some pretty famous people handled their rejection.

I remember auditioning for my first professional acting job.  It was for a role in the Smokey Mountain Passion Play in Townsend, TN.  My college drama professor was directing it, and since he already knew my abilities and had cast me in lead roles before,  I was sure I had a lock on a good role.  I wanted to be Jesus or Judas, hero or villain, as long is it was a lead role!  When the cast was announced I searched for my name beside one of the lead roles… not there.  I couldn’t believe it…. I checked the list again to be sure… oh wait, there it was at the bottom of the page: “Assistant to the Director – Chuck Neighbors.”  I was heart-broken.

Assistant to the Director….what did that even mean?  It is a vital and necessary responsibility, to be sure, but it basically meant “secretary.”  I would be by the director’s side to be a gopher and to write down every bit of stage blocking. Not what I wanted! I wanted a starring role! Man, this rejection thing stings!

That was early in my career but it is by no means the only example of rejection in my story.  Everyone experiences rejection. Actors have to be thick-skinned in this department and it is never easy.  Even after 37 years as a professional actor I still find myself judging my entire career on the basis of my last performance.  If I felt good about it, I was a success; if I didn’t I was a failure, and I contemplated getting out of the business altogether.

For some, the rejection kills the dream. They let one person’s negative comment, or a day of sales with no results, or the search for a job stamped with an “over-” or “under-qualified,” bring everything to a halt. It takes self-determination and a belief in one’s calling and ability to persevere.  Here are three things I consider when I have doubts brought on by rejection:

  1. Am I doing the right thing?  I stop and reflect on my life story. Where has my journey taken me so far? Does where I am make sense with that story? I pray and seek confirmation that I am indeed moving in the right direction.
  2. Is the rejection based in truth? I need to be honest. Was there something in my performance, my presentation, my job, that was not good, or that needs improving?  If so I admit it and make adjustments so it doesn’t happen again. If not, I give myself permission to disregard it and move on.
  3. Revisit my touchstones. Webster defines a touchstone as “a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.”  I think it is important to have touchstones throughout our story, our life.  Those key moments that serve as proof that you are doing the right thing. They might be items that mark milestones such as awards, letters and photos. Or places you can visit that help you remember significant events. Or a passage of scripture that God has used to speak to you and confirm things in your life. These things are wonderful reminders that can encourage and validate our story and give us an extra measure of courage to persevere.

As the video above indicates, even the most successful—or maybe I should say especially the most successful—people in the world experience rejection and failure. It is what you do with it that makes all the difference in the world.

(Side Note: In addition to being Assistant Director, I was also the understudy for ALL male roles. This basically meant I had to learn the entire script and be ready to go on for ANY actor who might be sick or absent.  It turned out to be a GREAT job and I did play, through-out the run of the show, ALL the lead roles at least once! I attribute that experience as one of my touchstones that confirms my calling and abilities!)

How do you handle rejection? What are some of your touchstones that remind you that you are doing the right thing?

6 thoughts on “Rejection

  1. Marcia says:

    It’s so true that we take to heart the rejections or failures, but completely forget about the successes. I don’t know why we focus on our shortcomings instead of using our successes as balast? That’s certainly something for me to pay attention to and work on in the future.

  2. "Papa" John says:

    Chuck, I’m so glad you ended your piece above with the “side note.” I was starting to have a guilty conscience until I read it. You have come a long ways, even with that initial disappointment. Your ride hasn’t been anything to sneeze at since that first professional job. I’m always proud to know of each of your performances. And also proud that I gave you that first professional job.
    Much love,

    “Papa” Welton

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Papa, I had to include the “side note.” My experiences under your direction and mentoring are a major part of my story and my “success.” I am so proud to have been one of your students and am grateful to have you as part of my story!

  3. Barbara Bell says:

    As much as anyone, I hate being rejected for something I thought I was qualified for. But as I get older, I just tell myself not to let it be the last time I try for something like that. You never know when your chance might come.

  4. Monica Green says:

    Great article and video. I will pass it on to a number of people.


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