Handling Rejection & Criticism 

Developing Resilience as a Creative Entrepreneur

As a business coach who works closely with creatives, I’ve come to understand all too well the unique challenges that come with turning your artistic passions into a livelihood. 

When you do what you love, it’s often hard to see where your passion ends and you begin. 

As an artist and designer myself, I’m familiar with the mixed emotions that bubble up when you share your work with the world. I understand the deep pride you feel every time you share a new piece, product, or project with a client or customer as well as the sheer terror that someone won’t like or appreciate what you’ve created. 

Whether you’ve been in the creative entrepreneurship game for a few months or several decades, the mixture of vulnerability, fulfillment, and even a touch of anxiety remains constant. 

After pouring your heart and soul into your work, receiving feedback, criticism, or even flat-out rejection from clients can be tough (AKA brutal). But the truth is there will be moments when your vision won’t perfectly align with their preferences – it’s an inevitable part of the creative journey. 

But, bouncing back, staying focused, and transforming these experiences into learning opportunities are crucial skills you need to cultivate in order to find long-term success.

As both a creative and a coach, I’ve distilled five essential tips to help you conquer self-doubt and imposter syndrome while finding a balance between serving your clients and staying true to your creative vision. I hope these insights will empower you to navigate client feedback with confidence and grace. 

Art School vs. The Real World 

Let’s start this conversation with a story.

Maybe you can relate?

“Crit” day (shorthand for our class critique days, where we’d present our work and receive feedback from our instructor and “critiques” from classmates) was a ritual every RISD student knew well. We’d display our work on the walls, and the instructor would guide the class to thoroughly discuss each piece – both the positives and the negatives. 

We perched around the room anywhere we could catch a glimpse– floor, table, windowsill, wherever (Crit Buns anyone?…IYKYK), and waited for the thoughts, impressions, comments, and feedback to flow.

This process was an integral part of our learning experience, and it taught us the vital importance of regularly receiving and handling feedback. Some of it was encouraging, some comments were tough to swallow, but all of it was ultimately constructive. 

“Crit” day was a true trial by fire, a microcosm of the real world awaiting us.

It taught me how to receive praise with grace, how to take negative feedback with a brave face, and how to implement suggestions to improve my designs instead of dwelling on the coulda-woulda-shouldas.

By senior year, I was beyond comfortable with criticism. In fact, eventually, I craved it because it challenged me to be better, push the boundaries, and strive for more as a creative!

But, nothing truly prepared me for what was waiting outside of the art studio doors until I was actually in it. While the classroom offered a supportive environment full of like-minded creatives…

…in the “real world,” things were different. 

It was a jarring and overwhelming experience at first!

Suddenly I had clients…

  • objecting to my color choices (because their mom didn’t like it… insert eye roll)

  • asking me to make their logo bigger for the hundredth time (a challenge many of my fellow graphic designers have probably encountered) 

  • Sending vague requests, like “Can you make it pop more?” (whatever that means)

I quickly learned that in the professional landscape, opinions are often loud, but not always grounded in expertise. Handling this kind of feedback is different from the experience I had in the classroom. It requires a strategic approach that balances artistic integrity with the client’s wants and needs.

Over time, I learned how to embrace feedback (with a grain of salt) without sacrificing my creative direction.

Now, I’m thrilled to share this insight with you!

Let’s dive into the 5 tips that have helped me and dozens of my clients skillfully navigate client criticism with resilience

COO Tip: Sometimes the best way to handle vague feedback is to show rather than tell. If your client insists on a certain design element that you know won’t work, show them why and present your recommended solutions.

#1 Use a Filter

No, not an Instagram filter. I mean a feedback filter. 

Why?

Because not all feedback is created equal!

In art school, I could trust that my peers were critiquing from experience and with good intentions. They often understood the design choices I’d made based on what we learned in class. And if anyone went rogue, the professor was there to steer the conversation and feedback back in a constructive, productive direction. 

In the “real world” feedback will vary and you’ll need to filter the REAL, valid feedback from the subjective feedback (although sometimes the subjective preferences will matter too especially when you’re creating work for hire)

So how can you successfully balance these perspectives?

  1. First, look to clear project goals and criteria to guide your creative work. Make sure you and your client both know what success means and set clear goals with checkpoints to keep everyone on track and avoid any guessing or assuming during your work together. When you know the objective for your creative project, it’s easier to qualify the feedback you’re receiving. 

  2. Ask yourself WHO is providing the feedback. Are they a client? The end user for your product? Your business’ ICA (Ideal Client Avatar)? If they are decidedly none of these personas, you might not need to take the feedback too seriously. 

  3. What is this person’s motivation in providing their feedback? Is it to improve the art, design, product, or project? If so, it’s probably worth being receptive to their input, even if you don’t agree at first. If they’re simply trying to voice an unhelpful or particularly loud opinion, it may be in your best interest to let it go. 

Ultimately, understanding the goal, the source, and the intention behind the criticism can help you determine the weight you should give to the feedback.

COO Tip: While feedback is crucial, design-by-committee rarely leads to the best outcomes. Make sure you identify all stakeholders before starting a project as well as who will have a say in creative direction and final approval. Going in with eyes wide open and setting clear boundaries around feedback upfront can make a world of difference!

#2 Separate Your Work From Yourself

I get it. 

Untangling yourself from your creative work is likely easier said than done. It can be downright HARD when the work is personal and you’ve invested so much time, skill, passion, and energy into a project. 

But when it comes to receiving feedback in a healthy, sustainable way, it is necessary.

When you’re feeling down you can try…

  1. Reflecting on past successes. This is a great way to remind yourself of accomplishments and moments when your work was well-received. I’ve even had clients keep “win” folders with positive client feedback or projects they’re especially proud of!

  2. Explore creative outlets outside of your professional work. Explore hobbies, interests, and activities unrelated to your creative business (I LOVE bread baking). This can broaden your sense of identity beyond just being an artist, writer, or designer making it easier to detach from your work. Plus, it may inspire a new perspective or idea when you do come back to your business’s creative projects.

  3. Journal. I love writing to process my thoughts. Journaling can be an excellent tool to ensure you aren’t just keeping those negative thoughts in your head. Jot down your inspiration for the project, how you’re feeling, or anything else that’s bubbling up.

Remember: 

Criticism of your work is NOT a criticism of you as a person or a creative.

#3 Establish a Growth Mindset

Adopting a growth mindset can transform how you perceive rejection and criticism. Instead of viewing them as roadblocks, see them as stepping stones on your creative journey. 

Each critique is an opportunity to improve and refine your skills, helping you grow as both an artist and a professional.

Some feedback you receive may genuinely hurt your ego because it actually identifies a shortcoming, mistake, or oversight on your part.

That’s okay. 

You are human after all (if they wanted to hire a robot, they would’ve outsourced the project to an AI tool).

If this is the case, remind yourself of this mantra,

“It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that I can’t do it YET.”

Seriously, we live by these words in our household. It applies in life and business; everything from my daughter’s surf lessons to me figuring out how to build an online course for my business.

When you begin to understand that the creative process is a journey, you can start to see that each project you create is a step forward, regardless of the feedback it receives. 

Keep your focus on improving your craft over time rather than fixating on individual critiques. After all, it’s called a practice for a reason!

#4 Build Your Support Network

Having a support network is crucial. It serves as your safety net, your sounding board, and your source of encouragement when the journey becomes challenging.

  1. Seek mentors and coaches who can provide valuable feedback and guidance. These people can show you the way while offering VALID feedback and guidance you can trust!

  2. Connect with peers and industry groups for different perspectives from those who understand your field. Their reliable insight will come from a place of experience and expertise and can often help you validate your creative decisions or see new ways of approaching your work!

  3. Don’t forget your personal life – your loved ones can offer encouragement when the creative journey gets tough. Sometimes you’ll just need to step away from your work, disconnect, and get out of the echo chamber of your industry! Lean on the people who love, encourage, and lift you up!

The support network you cultivate can often make the difference between thriving and merely surviving in your business and your creative work. So, surround yourself with mentors, peers, and loved ones who will champion your ambitions and bolster your confidence.

#5 Design Your Own Curriculum

Sometimes I long for the “good old college days” when I was absorbing new ideas like a sponge (except, I could do without the 8 am lectures)

If feedback from clients leaves you itching to expand your knowledge, consider prioritizing your own continuing education. 

It’s a self-directed Professional Development of sorts! Not sure where to begin?

  1. Identify areas of growth. Where do you need to invest more time and energy into learning, honing, and experimenting? Patterns in client feedback may direct this and give you some jumping-off points.

  2. Design a curriculum for yourself to address these areas! Explore resources, courses, mentorship or apprentice opportunities, and other learning experiences that pique your interest and align with your goals. 

  3. Make it measurable. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals and timelines to keep you on track!

  4. Use a time management strategy like Time Blocking or carving out Creative Time during your work week to prioritize this professional development. Treat it like you would any client meeting or appointment and hold yourself to this dedicated time!

The Power of Persistence

In the face of critique and rejection, the best advice I can offer is to keep going. 

Being a creative entrepreneur means you’ll stumble and slip along the way – it’s practically a guarantee.

But THIS might surprise you:

The difference between successful creative entrepreneurs and those who give up too soon has nothing to do with skill, talent, luck, or a lack of mistakes

The key?

Persistence.

And when (not if you fail), I urge you to fail FORWARD, using setbacks and opportunities to improve your creative skills, learn from your missteps, and come away with an unshakeable belief that setbacks won’t hold you back from your entrepreneurial dreams.

Remember that quitting is the only true form of failure. 

Cheering you on!

Expand Your Support Network

Need someone to have your back on your business journey?

I’d be honored to be a part of your professional support network!

Check out my business coaching services – they’re designed specifically for creative entrepreneurs just like you. I get the unique challenges you face and the dreams you’re chasing.

Want to know more about what teaming up could mean for you? Just click here to reach out, and I’ll be in touch!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's Connect!
Follow Me  @erincantwellco

HAVE A LOOK AROUND...