In Hollywood, the most common word you'll ever hear is “no.”
When you submit a film to a festival, a script to an agent's desk, or a resume for an interview, the word “no” greets you with the pain of a fresh little bee sting.
Every creative knows that feeling. We also know it's just part of the business. An occupational hazard. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.
But for some, that one little bee sting feels more like a thousand angry hornets. Each past sting from each past rejection comes back in vivid, painful detail, all at once, every time you get stung. Imagine that every time an agent rejected your script, you heard the voices of every other agent who rejected you, too.
This is what Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) feels like.
RSD is a sub-symptom exclusively linked to ADHD, characterized by extreme emotional—and even physical—sensitivity to rejection.
This last year, I was finally diagnosed with ADHD, and have since been discovering all sorts of symptoms associated with the condition. Many know about the hyperactivity, lack of focus, and executive dysfunction associated with ADHD, but Rejection Sensitivity is often overlooked, or dismissed as a personality trait. I certainly dismissed mine, alongside all of my other symptoms.
With ADHD, getting to the finish line on any project is already a Herculean feat. I've always had trouble focusing on any task I didn't find interesting. When I was young, I'd find a way to focus my mind by escaping into worlds of my own creation, which eventually led me to being a writer. After all, us ADHDers have horrible working memory, and writing stuff down is often the only way we'll remember an idea we've had.
Unfortunately, coalescing that idea into something as long as a screenplay or a novel—things that require hours of work and intense focus—is next to impossible if we don't love what we're writing.
This is a gift and a curse.
It means our projects are more meaningful to us and more passion is poured into them. But, if we're writing on a deadline, or for a producer on a project we're not invested in, it either doesn't happen or our work suffers.
And then, after overcoming those obstacles, when we're ready to share what we've written with the world—we're too terrified of rejection to do it.
I'd always assumed my sensitivity to rejection was a personal failing and had internalized it to the point where I wouldn't even reach out to a writer I admired on Twitter—who had specifically asked for other writers to reach out to them for advice—for fear of that angry hornets' nest.
It made sense to me at the time: if you walk into enough hornets' nests, you become deathly afraid of hornets. Unfortunately, that led to a lot of missed opportunities and experiences I could have grown from.
At the time, I was reacting to a fear without understanding why I felt it. Why was it a hornets' nest instead of a bee sting? Why could other people shrug it off and keep moving like it's nothing, while I was stuck in fear? Why did it hurt so much, and how could I make it hurt less?
This demon I had never had a name for was sucking the life out of my career (and my personal life), so I started therapy and got myself properly treated and medicated. While I was there, I talked constantly about how I could never get enough stuff done, that I was a failure at life, and how people were always rejecting me. I felt like I was putting out so much effort, and getting none in return.
Then she sat me down, and gave it to me straight:
“Everyone isn't rejecting you. You're rejecting yourself.”
It sounds stupid, but it was a light-bulb moment. I was seeing rejection everywhere, even in places it couldn't possibly exist. Something as silly as my mom gently telling me she preferred another brand of granola when I brought a different one home from the store would trigger me enough to cry, because I felt like I had failed that simple, little task. She wasn't rejecting me. I had labeled myself a failure over something tiny, and rejected myself.
Once I'd started taking that to heart, I became much more gentle and understanding with myself. I started feeling better, and more confident. I was ready to get back out there.
But then, I hit a wall. I still couldn't reach out to that writer on Twitter. I was doing everything right, so why was I still behaving like I was going to get stung?
Simple. Every human hates rejection. It's a universal truth. Although I'd started to heal my own trauma from my rejection sensitivity, I wasn't about to change human nature. And I wasn't going to avoid getting stung in an industry full of bees. What I could do is turn that buzzing hornets' nest into a low, distant drone by repeating this mantra:
You Are Not Your Rejections
When every rejection feels personal and life-ending, it's easy to start believing your idea or your worth will never be accepted in this business. It grinds you down, and you stop trying. You stop sending those scripts out. You stop reaching out to those contacts you met at a networking event.
You don't even want to open yourself up to the possibility that someone might say “yes” because you've heard “no” so many times.
So try this instead when you get told “no,” or when you get stung. Instead of remembering all of those past bee stings, all of those people who told you “no,” remember the “yeses.”
Remember each and every person who encouraged you along the way. Your friends, your parents, your teachers, your colleagues. Everybody who said you had potential. Everybody who looked at a piece of art you did and admired how good it was, even if it was when you were five years old and your mom put up your macaroni picture on the fridge.
Gather your strength from it. So what if one person said “no,” when so many people said “yes?” Turn that hornets' nest into a warm embrace.
And most importantly—
Do. Not. Stop. Trying.
*Feature Image: "A Billion Little Stings" / created for Pipeline Artists by VVA