Rejection. Even the sound of the word is distasteful. Re-jec-tion.
Its first syllable evokes eeek, eeesh, eegads!
Its second syllable seduces – (sly dog) – but the initial softness of the j is followed by the full force of the egregious “ect” with its harsh k still clanging in my ears.
As for syllable number three, “tion” certainly encourages one to “shun” any further attempts to stick one’s neck on the creative or professional chopping block.
Rejection labels us or our work as throwaway, unworthy, a failure.
And it hurts.
Recently, a friend mentioned a rejection letter.
I thought of mountains.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?
Although I find them beautiful to look at, I don’t climb mountains. It’s not my thing. On the other hand, I’m all too familiar with rejection. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. And since I’ve ventured plenty in my life, I’ve known my share of blows, also known as failure or rejection.
When you set your standards high, when you drive yourself to push your limits, when the mountain you choose to climb is scaled by the most skilled and experienced, you’re up for more rejection than the usual.
Maybe you have moments when you decide that you’ve set your sights on an unattainable objective. You feel beaten by the mountain.
My emotional response in a case like this?
It’s a goddamn stupid mountain. I’m giving up climbing. Mountain climbing sucks. I suck. Who did I think I was to assume I could do this?
Ouch. So much bashing. So much blame. So much self-deprecating drama! And no plan to improve the skills needed to achieve the goal, much less cultivate the attitude and the support required to get there.
A better way to view the situation might be: It’s the wrong mountain for this moment, in these circumstances, at this stage in my climbing experience.
Accepting and Learning From Rejection
Sometimes our objectives are off. Sometimes they’re premature. Sometimes we get lucky, or we see others get lucky. Sometimes we are focusing on productivity rather than quality, when what we need is both. Sometimes we should not have been rejected, and yet we are. People misjudge, make mistakes, are biased.
Sometimes, rejection is right on target.
Most of us encounter rejection in our lives. We learn from the process. We learn to learn from it, because it doesn’t come naturally at first. Eventually, we balance “no thank you” with “yes please” and closed doors with the red carpet. We recognize that all of us are fallible – those who assess our work or performance, and we ourselves, in similar fashion.
A few rejections from my personal file, and their counterbalancing wins:
- Princeton didn’t want me; Wellesley did.
- The bearded undergrad didn’t want me; the clean-shaven Frenchman did.
- Some dozen literary journals of various types rejected what I sent many years ago; when I least expected, one magazine accepted my pitch, then another, then a newspaper began to publish me.
- I’ve applied to countless jobs over the course of 30 years and received a polite “no.” In contrast, I’ve been offered opportunities that have surprised me, and I charged full speed ahead.
Incidentally, I look back at the writing I submitted all those years ago, and I find it dreadful. Some of it could have been improved with a good editor. The rest? I’ll take the fifth.
No One Climbs a Mountain Alone
If you head out the door for a short walk – as I do most mornings in this daily writing – the objective is straightforward and simple. It’s a bit of fresh air, a little exercise, a means to gather thoughts. All are important.
If you decide to embark on a more grueling activity, it’s sensible to do so well-prepared. Ideally, that means time, money, heart – and good company. Hikers travel in groups, mountaineers rely on teams; with more experience and a familiar route, that reliance becomes less critical.
While many in creative businesses (or the business of creating) work alone, that doesn’t mean we aren’t better off accessing our support systems and our “teams” before sending our creations out for judgment. We may be off in our targeting, we may be off in substance, we may be premature in pushing our darlings out the door. Conversation with a knowledgeable friend can help. Honest feedback, provided we are willing to listen, can provide insight. Note that I specify “knowledgeable.” Anything else is destructive noise.
A longtime mentor asked me recently where I saw myself these days, relative to personal goals. Again, I thought of a mountain. Nothing too intimidating, mind you. No Alpine peaks on my horizon.
“I’m in the foothills,” I said, picturing rocky terrain as I spoke the words, a slow, steady climb. I am aware of the sustained effort that stretches ahead.
“I will need an able assist now and then,” I added, realizing that this is new for me. For too many years I insisted on plowing ahead solo, as if goals could be achieved in isolation. I am beginning to understand that we are wiser to build a climbing community we can count on – for dealing with rejection, and hopefully, for celebrating eventual success.
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