Overcoming Setbacks



The dance industry can be tough- physically, mentally and literally. Setbacks and disappointments are part of this journey. No one can be successful all the time- as a dancer, you need to learn how to deal with these challenging times, and not allow them to derail your progress. I’m going to talk a little bit about how.

I’ll start with what NOT to do- many people will take the attitude of always assuming they won’t be successful, in an attempt to avoid disappointment. This is negative and damaging. If you go into every competition, audition, application, or whatever else, believing that you will fail, you will never perform your best. If you expect to get injured, or to get replaced, or for complications to occur, you will create that in your life. Focusing on the negative, expecting the worst, will damage your self-esteem and sabotage your chances of success and happiness. People obsessively fear disappointment to the extent that they take these measures just to avoid it. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from doing things, and from committing to them- instead make sure you’re equipped with the right coping mechanisms to be able to brush yourself off and move along.

Something I like to do, which can feel silly but does really work, is play the “what if?” game- WHAT IF the reason I didn’t get this opportunity is because there’s something even better just around the corner? What if this rejection has nothing to do with talent, and I just wasn’t the right person for the role? What if I come back from this injury better and stronger than ever? What if there’s an important lesson to be learned from this? Thinking like this will make you start to feel better.

Another good idea is to get some perspective. When you’ve just received a rejection or some other big disappointment or setback, it can feel like everything’s falling apart- especially if it was a pivotal event you were relying on. Several months ago I was rejected from a dance school that I really thought I’d get in to, and was relying on. I had to re-think my entire plan. When people say “everything happens for a reason”, it’s easy to disregard it, but there is SO much truth in this saying. If I look back on all the big disappointments in my life, when I felt utterly crushed, I realise that they always led me on the path to something better, which at the time I hadn’t even thought of yet. if you don’t believe me, read this for some inspiration…

This is a story I received in my ‘happiness email series’, which I signed up when I ordered my Happiness Planner- you can sign up for them here. It’s written by renowned advertising expert Dave Trott.

“When I was 18, I wanted to be a fine artist. So I applied to seven art schools all over the UK – Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Exeter, etc. But I got turned down by all of them.

Then my sister told me to apply to art school in New York. Out of desperation, I did. And I got accepted, and I got a scholarship.

And when I went to New York, I switched to advertising.

And it changed my life.

But, if I hadn’t been turned down by those seven art schools, it never would have happened.

After four years in New York, I came back to London.

I knew nothing about UK advertising.
So I made fifty Xerox copies of my portfolio and sent it to the first fifty names in the Yellow Pages.

I got forty nine rejections, out of fifty applications.

Only one person offered me a job.
John Webster.

I didn’t know who John Webster was.
He’d only just been made ECD at BMP.

I was the first person John hired.

And I wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t been for the forty nine rejections.

I learned a lot and won a lot of awards, under John at BMP.

I wanted to stay there for life.
But, ten years later, John had two deputy CDs: me and Graham Collis.

John told me he was making Graham Collis overall ECD.

That meant I’d have to work for him.
I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t think he was as good as me.

So I had to leave.

I called up Mike Gold and asked him if he wanted to start an agency.

He said okay, as long as he could bring Mike Greenlees.

So we started Gold Greenlees Trott.
We were voted Campaign Agency of the Year.

We were voted Most Creative Agency in the World by Ad Age (or Ad Week) in NY.

It was the best ten years of my working life.

And I would never have done it if John hadn’t made someone else ECD.

One day D&AD called me.

They said they weren’t happy with the Advertising Concepts course I’d started ten years earlier.

They said too many people were applying and the standard of applicants was too low.

I said it was supposed to be low, that was the point.

To give people a chance who wouldn’t otherwise have one.

But D&AD were adamant.

They were going to select only the best applicants for the course, and reject the rest.

So I said I couldn’t be part of the course anymore.

It was elitist.

I said, give me the names of the people you reject and we’ll set up a special course at my agency.

Just for the rejects.

I didn’t want to leave the main D&AD course, but I didn’t have a choice.

Many years later I got The President’s Award at D&AD.

And CDs from some of the best agencies in town came up to me to say thanks.

They had been on that rejects’ course.
D&AD had decided they weren’t good enough to be in advertising.

And, without the rejects’ course, they wouldn’t have had the chance.

It happens like that.

What seems like the end of the road may just be a cul de sac.

It feels like rejection.
It feels like failure.
But maybe it isn’t.
Maybe you just ran out of road on that route.

Time to back up, turn around and look for a new route to get where you want to go.

And the new route may actually be better.

Although it doesn’t look that way at present.

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is not getting what you want.”

Also, many of the most successful people in the world had huge failures in their life before finding success. Watch this:

And, for a more dance-sepcific example, this:


It’s normal to be upset- but set a limit on your moping time. This will probably vary according to the size of the disappointment, but I never feel sorry for myself for longer than a day. After that, I might still feel sad, but I put my energy into finding a new action plan.

Start by taking stock of where you are now- if you need to learn something from what’s happened, ask yourself how you can do that. If it’s just one of those things, then skip that part and think about moving forwards. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do and what you wish was going to be, focus on what you CAN do. Set new goals, and think of steps you can start taking towards achieving those. Make plans. And have faith! Think of all those famous people in that video who failed time and time again- they didn’t listen to naysayers. They knew they could do it, and they did. Believe in yourself, tell yourself you can do it, and don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise.

All the best.

Jessica x


Photos by the ever-talented Jake Owens Photography.

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