Failing to Succeed

Failing to Succeed

Last week, on Father’s Day, my daughter, her friend, her friend’s father and I took a trip to the Crane Estate above the bluffs of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Richard T. Crane’s property (also known as Castle Hill) came to exemplify the American Country Place Era with its farm and estate buildings, fashioned grounds and gardens, and diverse natural areas. During the Great Depression Crane did a great deal for the town of Ipswich, employing hundreds of residents and contributing to the town’s well being in numerous other ways. The generous Crane family donated nearly 2,000 acres, including Hog Island and Crane Beach, to the Trustees of Reservations so we all could enjoy this extraordinary land.

Anyway, it was a beautiful Sunday morning and I marveled at the landscaping (really, landsculpting) of the estate. I remarked to the other dad about this amazing artistry of design and learned the designer was none other than Frederick Law Omlstead.

I’d known of Omlstead’s work on Central Park, Boston’s Common and also its “Emerald Necklace,” but had no idea of his work in Ipswich (the next town over from where I live). I began looking into the life of this designer and discovered many interesting facts, but one in particular stood out as a lesson all careerists could learn from.

Before he designed Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead had been a failure at five professions. That’s correct – five. As reported by Michael J. Lewis in a Wall Street Journal review of Genius of Place by Justin Martin, Olmstead had been a surveyor, clerk, sailor, scientific farmer and publisher. He had also failed as “special” student at Yale. However, as it turned out, Olmstead’s experiences and observations during his travels during “this roster of failures would turn out to be the best possible of resumes for the varied achievements of his career” as a “landscape architect … a term he invented.”

In addition to Central Park, those achievements included “Chicago’s Riverside Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the Boston Fens and Yosemite National Park. Whoa. Nice rebounds.

“Failure” is closely related to rejection.

I have become very familiar with rejection over the years. I’ve had editors tell me my writing is boring, booking agents tell me my music won’t draw, and distributors tell me my product is too unusual. When you work by yourself, rejection can really take a toll on you if you’re not careful, because there is no one around to laugh about it with you. After a while, it can stop being funny.

I have learned some tricks over time for coping with rejection. The advice that follows may save you some anguish. It saves me anguish – daily.

  • Expect some rejection. If you expect every pitch to be a sale, every person to be nice to you, and every proposal to win you business, you are going to take rejection really hard. Rejection is part of life; you have to accept that and expect to be rejected. Remember, every record company in Britain initially rejected the Beatles; same with the Rolling Stones. Thicken your skin and hang tough.
  • Celebrate rejection. When I first moved to Boston, my mentor told me to think of every rejection as bringing me one step closer to success. He was talking about odds. If you have a failure or setback, it means you’ve gotten one setback out of the way and you are therefore closer to getting what you want. In other words, the more no’s you hear, the closer you are to a yes.
  • Do not be upset by rejection. Rejection is a fact, but how you feel about being rejected is not a fact. People automatically assume that because you are rejected, you have to feel terrible. But rejection is just rejection – nothing more, nothing less. People have all kinds of reasons for rejecting you. Sometimes it has to do with you; many times it doesn’t. Often it’s just a matter of timing (think, The Beatles).
  • Do not be at other people’s mercy. If you are always looking to other people for approval or to verify that you are worthy, your life will be a roller coaster. When you get a lot of acceptance, you’ll feel great; when you get a lot of rejection, you’ll feel terrible. When someone rejects you in a work situation, it doesn’t mean you are no good; it means you (or your idea) got rejected. Period. Move on.
  • Don’t globalize. It is important to make sure rejection doesn’t wreak havoc on your psyche. Therapists call this “globalizing”. It means that when you fail at one thing, you think everything is terrible. To avoid globalizing, give yourself a reality check when you suffer a rejection. Make a list, mentally or on paper, of what is going well in your business or your life, to remind you of your successes as well as failures.
  • Read the following passage (a lot). He failed in business in ‘31. He was defeated when he ran for the legislature in ‘32. He failed once again in business in ‘34. His fiancee died in ‘35. He had a nervous breakdown in ‘36. He went back into politics and was defeated in the election of ‘38. He decided to run for Congress and was defeated in ‘43. He was defeated for Congress in ‘46. He was defeated for Congress in ‘48. He was defeated for the Senate in ‘55. He was defeated for vice president in ‘56. He was defeated for the Senate in ‘58.

After that, you’d say this guy was through, right? He was “all washed up,” wasn’t he? No, not at all. He went on to be elected President in 1860. The man, of course, was Abraham Lincoln.



  1. Hi Peter,

    Very interesting your post today. We all know that the success of today in music are the songs and artists who has been rejected by the music industry before. The music industry want to know who sell so until you demonstrate them that your music and songs can bring them revenue you will be rejected. Rejection means that you are different not from the box and have something unique, nobody like what is new and different from the norms so rejection is the key to success, and if you do not give up your talent will pay for you one day. Rejection must make the artists be strong and work harder his or her talent (voice, performance, songs) be different is to be rejected and be noticed too. Groov’With Me.

  2. Inspiring yes.


    • Yes – “Inspire”, from the Latin, “to breathe into”.
      Stuff like this resuscitates.

  3. Another gem, thanks Peter.


  4. Peter,
    This is such an important topic! Your timing perfectly sync’d for me. It’s funny how one can ‘know’ about this positive side of rejection and yet still fall back into feeling bad about everything when it happens again. I guess the ego ‘self’ (the part that takes rejection so personally) is just a monster that constantly needs to be beaten back into the cave. Just when I think I’ve achieved a sense of detachment it comes back out to remind me it’s still there! So thanks for reminding me there is a positive side!!!

  5. Thanks Peter,

    Nice to be reminded of this and great to hear the real world examples. Puts things in perspective.


  6. Peter,

    This is one inspiring post I’ve ever read! As a songwriter, you wade in a constant stream of rejections, but you see success in the horizon.

    Thank you for this and reminding me in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never, never
    give up!”


    • Thanks Steve.
      I believe the late Joseph Brooks tried 113 times to get his song, ‘You Light Up My Life,” published.
      Now that’s songwriter perseverance!

      Keep it cooking!!!

  7. Peter,
    This is great stuff for anyone in any field. Thanks for putting it together for musicians and those coming up the pipeline. I’m working primarily with prospective music majors and their parents, teachers, other mentors, who need to know this message and remember it every step of the way — especially at audition time and when those infamous emails (that used to be fat or skinny envelopes) come out between March and April. One never knows what the rejections will lead to down the road; how one copes with, grows from and moves on has everything to do with how things do unfold. Let’s talk about getting this linked to our soon-to-be launched web magazine!


    • “One never knows what the rejections will lead to down the road” – so true.
      May we all learn to take the long view.

      Thanks for those words Barbra. Happy to link up when the time’s right!

  8. Another thought – who you share your rejection with is worth a second look. Try as we will, we may have to pick ourselves up, scrape off the dirt, and maybe stumble a bit as we start walking and then running again. It’s tricky enough without the added fears and sympathies of others who don’t really understand the process and who, even unintentionally perhaps because of their own inability to handle rejection, can grind some of that dirt into the wound. What we get back from choosing wisely who we share our vulnerabilities with is likely to support our ability to learn from the experience and see it as just that — experience.

    PS The web resource launching next month for prospective and current music majors is

  9. Thanks for the post!

    I want to add something to the “do not be upset by rejection” bullet.

    When I get a rejection letter from a granting agency, or I am overlooked for a showcase slot, or when a reviewer gives my my album a pass… I like to allow myself a one-day pity party where I can rail against the world for ~poor-me~ refusing to recognize my amazingness! (grin)

    I agree that it is imperative to reframe rejection so that it is not seen as personal, because 99 to 1 it is NOT personal – bad timing, different aesthetics…whatever it is, it’s not a reflection on your self worth. But, I do think it is important to grieve the losses, otherwise they can fester underneath. I find by that by letting myself lay on the self-pity super thick — being a ~poor-baby~ for a day — I can better put those rejections aside and get on with getting on.


    • Right – Feel the loss, forward the goal.

      Thanks for sharing Karyn.

  10. Deedra Saha

    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is fantastic, let alone the content!

  11. Some interesting stuff here.However what I have to bring to the discussion is a mystery wrapped up in a conundrum!
    I played in bands without any problems for 20 years, rock covers mainstream and original, took rejection from record companies on the nose and laughed about it(never had the money to pay kickbacks to the AR people anyway)Then about 4 years ago we did an audition gig and we were told we wouldn’t get any response from the small audience but the venue owners could see what we did.We did the gig the place was packed and we got 3 encores.!!! So we think great lots of work, however the venue boss refused to book us again.Whats this shit about? So we move on it happens again a few times.Are we getting paranoid? Not according to audience members who can’t figure out the rejection…Ive had to take a break as this shit is f*cking with my head, but its hard not to gig when gigging is what you do!
    Anyone else experienced this ????


Leave a Reply