If You Have Ever Been Rejected… Be Like Bono

Posted by

The letter read…

"Thank you for submitting your tape of ‘U2‘ to RSO, we have listened with careful consideration, but feel it is not suitable for us at present. We wish you luck with your future career."

They were kind enough to end the letter by saying, "sincerely." So, that’s something.

How many times have you been told "no"?

It’s not that The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Museum doesn’t have tons of eye candy, videos and collectibles that would get the most cynical of music enthusiast smiling. It’s full of that. But, after spending several hours there today, in Cleveland, it is that short letter for Bono and the boys that I took a picture of, and will constantly refer back to when someone tells me no or rejects one my ideas. Thankfully, U2 kept going. They believed in the work that they were creating, and they persevered to the tune of massive global stardom. U2 is the type of iconic band that can sell out any stadium that has electricity. They’re just that big. They’re adored by millions. There are thousands of stories about rejection like this one. What’s most interesting is just how much things have changed. The record industry (like the marketing industry) used to be based on a scarcity model. Without the right music, look, feel, management, resources, network and more, the odds of making it would shrink exponentially. Record labels could only release a handful of albums each and every year, and there was only so much shelf space in record stores for all of these artists. Gatekeepers had to do their best to reserve these coveted spots for "sure things." 

From scarcity to abundance.

Technology has added some dynamic layers of abundance to this. Now, any artist (or marketer) can share their ideas – in text, images, audio and video – instantly and (mostly) for free with the world. You can post your music to SoundCloud, a video to YouTube, or you can pique someone’s interest via Facebook, Twitter and beyond. It has never been easier to share, because the cost of distribution has slipped to zero along with the barriers to entry. It gets even crazier when you think about the cost to record that music when compared to the days of recording studios and more. There’s nothing new in that. We’ve been banging this drum for well over a decade already. Still, not a day passes by that someone isn’t down in the dumps over being rejected or told that they can’t do something.

If it’s important to you.

When I think about rejection. When I think about quitting. When I think about all of the people who have ever tried to hold me back (including my own beliefs), I think about two books:

  1. The Dip by Seth Godin.
  2. Do The Work by Steven Pressfield.

They are small books with massive ideas that will help you figure out how to start something and/or when to end it. Both are important. Now, I have a picture of this letter that some record company wrote to U2. I can slide to unlock my iPhone, select my photos and just read it. In two seconds, I can then decide if whatever rejection I’m facing has merit beyond someone – with their own ego issues – getting in the way. This doesn’t mean that other people’s opinions and insights don’t deserve any attention. Constructive criticism and feedback is often good and may very well send you on a different and more successful course. Still, people will reject you and your ideas for a myriad of reasons… and a lot of the time it has very little to do with your skills, talent, artistry and hunger. Always remember that.

If you’re feeling rejected, just read that note to U2 over again, and be like Bono. Keep at it.


  1. RSO was into disco at the time, so it’s not surprising. Glad to see they were at least polite about the rejection (another lesson for all of us). Meanwhile, thankfully U2 stuck with it and created a whole new sound.
    What a great find, Mitch.

  2. March 21, 2006: Twitter is founded
    September 12, 2013: Twitter announces its IPO
    I’m sure there were a few rejection letters for them in the past seven or so years.
    “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
    Albert Einstein

  3. Hey Mitch,
    Interesting post. I just watched Searching for Sugar Man. Another testimony to the harshness of the music industry. Amazing how someone could be “more famous” than Elvis (at least in South Africa) and not even know it or enjoy the rewards. Amazing story – don’t think it could happen in the Internet age. Getting back to your post – I wonder if Rodriguez was lacking Bono-like determination or was the rejection just too much to bear. After watching, I’m left wondering what would have happened if he had kept at it, instead of dropping out? More famous than Elvis everywhere?

  4. finished audiobook of pressfield yesterday. found that i was apply a thin but useful layer to my cognitive thinking, for control. on the other hand, i found the audiobook version a bit too dominating in a desensitizing sense. i suppose that this approach may work and seen as necessary for those of us who have experienced profound pain while doing the things we believe in. i hope that the desensitizing outcomes do more good for oneself and broader society

Comments are closed.