Do you fear creative rejection? What one Canadian “Reality TV” show can teach us

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” (19th century idiom)

I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into the other room and read a book” (Groucho Marx)

As a freelancer, I find weekday mornings start with me reading or listening to email and voicemail messages and cueing up projects for the day. Since I’m also committed to keeping healthy, most mornings I fit in a workout at my nearby gym (where rigorous cleaning practices reduce the risk of the pandemic).

A Canadian reality TV show hits the air

In the past two weeks, while on an elliptical trainer at 9:30 am, I’ve noticed the gym TV, set on the National Geographic channel, airs a disturbing “reality show,” called “Canadian Pickers.” The webpage for the program describes it thus:

‘Canadian Pickers’ follows two highly-skilled pickers—Sheldon Smithens, an antiques dealer, auctioneer and appraiser by trade, and his partner Scott Cozens, a full-time lawyer and life-long picker—as they rummage through old barns, messy yards and abandoned attics in search of objects with historical, collectible and pop culture value. . . .Each pick explores the history and stories behind these objects . . . and introduces a variety of captivating people . . . with fascinating stories (

The premise of the show is that Smithens and Cozens drive both the highways and backroads of Canada, “buying low” and “flipping” their antique finds for “selling high,” all within the course of the half-hour show.

Both men are of late-middle age and look the part of scruffy, seasoned relic hunters, clad in leather-fringed jackets, rustic cowboy hats and dusty boots. Smithens has long, bleached locks that look infrequently washed; both men sport scruffy light beards that haven’t seen a razor in weeks. They combine aspects of the far greater (and more charming) Canadian icons, Red Green, Charlie Farquharson and “Relic,” from ‘The Beachcombers.’

Although they try to convey an ease with their passion for “picking,” I find Smithens, the leader,  appears too “long-in-the-tooth” to be believed, as he turns over one-after-another successful sale, in a pursuit of dubious sanity.

At least in the episodes that I’ve seen, in the past two weeks, neither “picker” ever faces rejection. A buyer is always found for that cast-off “wagon wheel,” that old-fashioned “traffic light,” or that damaged, vintage “Coca-Cola sign.”  Refusals from, and potential conflicts with, buyers are left entirely off-stage.

Creative rejection is inevitable

The ridiculousness of this “Reality TV” show is that it flies in the face of the reality that rejection is a part of any professional’s work. Writers, designers, and other creatives can expect to receive hundreds of rejection messages or letters in a year, if they regularly pitch articles, books, or other work to curators or publishers.

Rejection is also an inevitable part of every sales cycle. Ask Seth Godin and other, gifted marketers and they’ll acknowledge it, full stop. The key is how to manage that rejection and not let it overtake your mind and work.

Five strategies to mitigate rejection

Over the years, much ink has been spilled on the topic of rejection to creative work. Two weeks ago, Daniella Cressman mentioned

five sensible strategies for dealing with rejection, on the creatives’ online site, “Freelancers’ Union.” (I paraphrase, here):

  1. Remember that feedback is often subjective, so a piece of writing/art is not necessarily better or worse than the standard of an editor/publisher but may simply be different from what s/he is seeking. Different editors like different things.
  2. By contrast, writers and other creatives can almost always improve by taking constructive feedback seriously. Oftentimes, editors know what they’re talking about, and their comments (not to mention the time they take to share them) should be valued.
  3. Keep writing or creating: We only get better at what we do by practicing. Cressman suggests taking a class, if we need to acquire certain skills. Nowadays, watching a training webinar would be a good strategy.
  4. Keep submitting our work, as sometimes we need to over-submit, so the volume of contact can take effect (e.g. submitting work to only one or two agents/publishers is not likely to bring any response, much less success). In other words, keep pitching!
  5. Explore other ways of publishing our work—If every gatekeeper refuses us, consider self-publishing. Many freelancers use Friesen, Lulu and other self-publishing houses or services.

Hire your own editor and find an artist who will make a professional cover (if you’ve written a book). Cressman says you’ll have to do “a lot of marketing,” but you may find an unexpected following for your work.

Even with these sensible strategies, though, everyone knows that rejection will continue. It’s an indisputable condition of any creative work.

This reality TV fails to tell real stories

What I find more painful than this is television shows like “Canadian Pickers,” which appeal to or assume our feeblemindedness, that success in sales could come so easily and, apparently, so entertainingly.

Cracks break through the proverbial wallpaper of the program, such as in the unscripted negative facial expressions of some of the “buyers” of the “pickings.” One buyer this morning hesitated to shake hands with both Smithers and Cozens and looked more than a little skeptical.

Those moments clash with the complicity we feel as viewers, as we’re expected to compare favourably the sale prices the pickers receive (shown on-screen) with the purchase prices they paid for the schlock (only a short time earlier).

Being manipulated by such staging tends to annoy viewers, so that Smithens and Cozens quickly become objects of our ridicule—which reflects that the show is a marketing disaster.

Regulars at my gym trade increasingly sarcastic remarks about the duo that become far more entertaining than the program itself.

Whatever experiences of professional rejection we creatives face, they seem easier to tolerate than being forced (when working out) to watch the team of “Canadian Pickers.”

Avoiding ridiculous “stories” of creative entrepreneurship

Since making note of when the show airs each weekday morning, I am greatly motivated to do four things, to exercise my own right of “rejection”:

  1. Run to the gym as soon as I wake up (to avoid the show altogether). Messages will have to wait!
  2. Run after gym staff upon arrival, to beg for the remote control to change the channel;
  3. Follow Grouch Marx’s lead and take a book to the gym;
  4. Greatest of all: clean up my attic, garage, yard (you fill-in-the-blanks) to keep Smithens and Cozens from knocking on my door, next!

And now it’s your turn: How you cope with creative rejection?

Could you use my creative services to mitigate the risk of rejection or to undercut it altogether?

Please share your thoughts (and stories!) on my contact page. I’d be delighted to hear from you.