Sunday Snippet: Mike Rowe on Rejection

“You can’t separate your successes from your failures until you look back, and even then, there’s not much point in putting each into a separate column. It’s all a part of whatever path your [sic] on.”

Something that popped up on social media shortly after the Jon Stewart’s final episode of The Daily Show was a letter written by Mike Rowe to one of his fans. What many people don’t know is that the former host of Dirty Jobs and the current host of Somebody’s Gotta Do It was once up for the gig of hosting The Daily Show. In fact, he was the second-best candidate for the job. Twice. And he got rejected. Twice.

As you can imagine, the roller coaster of emotions must have been gut-wrenching for the younger Mike Rowe. He was beat out by Craig Kilborn the first time around and he was effectively offered the job the second time around, except Comedy Central mustered up the extra cash to attract Jon Stewart instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rejection is hard. It’s a huge stab to the ego, because you really start to question whether you’re ever going to be good enough for anyone. You keep putting your best foot forward and you keep getting told that someone else’s foot is better. You can get dejected. You can lose hope. You can start to recognize that trying is the first step toward failure, so you don’t want to try at all.

But that’s not the right mindset nor is it the right approach. Take it from a guy who was rejected literally hundreds of times in his career.

“From 1984 to 1990, I auditioned for at least 500 jobs. I booked less than a dozen. That’s one “yes” for every fifty “no’s.” In 1993, after losing my steady job at QVC, (deservedly,) I returned to the freelance life. For the next eight years, I lived in New York and Hollywood, and auditioned for no less than two thousand gigs. I booked roughly three-hundred of those. In other words, I did very well. But along the way, I was rejected two or three times a week. That’s every week, for the better part of a decade. That’s a lot of rejection.”

Looking back, I’m not sure I could imagine a Daily Show hosted by Mike Rowe, but I couldn’t possibly imagine a Dirty Jobs without Mike Rowe. He would have never had the opportunity to learn and experience as much as he had — talking to pig farmers, bat guano collectors and storm drain cleaners — if he were never rejected from the Comedy Central gig in the first place. Rejection was good for his career and for him as a person.

“If you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time,” as UCLA processor Alan Kay once said, “you’re not aiming high enough.” And that’s how all of us should really think about failure and rejection. Each time someone says no, we learn something about ourselves. We get one step closer to our goals, whatever those goals may be.

“The only real failure is the failure to try.”

It is far better to have made the attempt and fail than it is to wonder what could have been… even if you end up diving into a sewage plant, cleaning animal skulls for display, or laying hot tar on new roofs.