A children’s riddle goes, “what weighs more, pound of feathers or a pound of lead?” The answer is obvious when guessed wrong and cruelly laughed at (thank you third grade classmates. Jerks.). That riddle, with slight alterations, is relevant to those of us in the arts: “what weighs more, a pound of acceptance or a pound of rejection?” (Of course, neither has mass thus cannot be weighed, but when getting rejected it does sorta feel like someone pounded you so, with a bit of stretch, it does work).
So, back to the question. I can tell you from experience that, in this case, the weight is not the same. The pound of rejection weighs more. A lot more. Acceptance—juried exhibit, magazine feature, contest, etc—is great, but rejection from those same opportunities is simply dreadful. I would estimate that one rejection is worth 2.75 acceptances. At least it’s that way for me, and I know I am not alone. As an example, I was accepted into a juried exhibit one day last year, and the very next day was rejected by another. So how do you think I felt? Bummed. Frustrated. It wasn’t that the rejection came after the acceptance, it was that its effect was more powerful.
Looking back it seems rather silly to have let the negative overpower the positive, but at the time it seemed a reasonable response. I mean, I know the subjectiveness of photography and how one person’s opinion (or ANYONE else’s opinion) is completely meaningless (I tell that to others all the time), but I also know that, as someone who takes his photography very seriously, it’s all too easy to overreact to rejection. My photographs are like my children, and we all know how parents become despondent when their tykes lives are ruined when they get rejected from the preschool on the good side of town (they get laughed at in third grade).
The trick for those of us working in a creative field isn’t to change our responses as much as it is to get through them. Mourn your rejections if you have to, but don’t get consumed by them. I guarantee that you’ll come out the other side a better and stronger artist for the experience. I know I have.