One of my writing buddies inspires me with her ability to not let rejection stop her. We’re part of an online writing circle, where she regularly shares about disappointing rejections from potential agents and publishers–as well as the occasional exciting acceptance.
She understands that the writer’s path is one of regular rejection and considers her recent stats–twenty rejections and two acceptances–as a kind of badge of honor. I’m proud of her for that. She’s not immune to pain, and I’ve seen lousy news knock her down a bit, but then she stands back up, dusts herself off, and sends out more material.
Brava! I’m hoping that some of her ability to withstand rejection will rub off on me.
Last weekend, I attended a workshop with Mark Matousek, author of several books I love including When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living. I found Mark’s memoir, Sex, Death and Enlightenment, to be compelling and edgy, so I asked him how it was to receive criticisms of such a personally courageous book. He replied (I paraphrase), “After everything I’ve experienced, it’s not that important.”
Right. AIDs, the death of friends, his own HIV diagnosis and other significant life experiences would make a few criticisms of his book look small. He admitted that rejection can still hurt, but he doesn’t hang on to that hurt for long.
I, on the other hand, conflate rejection with they-don’t-love-me and it’s-the-end-of-the-known-world.
I don’t recommend my approach.
In the spirit of sharing what I need to learn, I’ve developed the following for any of us who suffer when our work, ideas, projects, or art are rejected:
It’s your work they are rejecting–not you.
Yes, I know this, but it’s still tough to believe, For many of us, memories of disappointment, rejection, or lack of acknowledgment are buried deep in our cells. I’m not talking metaphorically. Traumatic memories can live somatically (in the body) often untouched by years of talk-therapy. Trying to tell yourself to “not take it personally” can help if it buys you some time to take a breath and look at your situation with a little objectivity. But today’s small rejection may quickly trigger a connection with painful incidents from the past. Bottom line: don’t make yourself wrong if it still hurts, and repeat the mantra: it’s not about me.
Explore the source of the wound.
While thinking might not make your hurt go away, writing about it, breathing into it, or exploring where the feelings live in your body (Focusing), can keep you from staying stuck in the pain. Some wounds may never go away entirely, but they can be prevented from directing your life. Your disappointments can point you to where healing and self-acceptance are still needed and prove themselves to be a gift you can use.
Notice the scale of the rejection.
Some rejections are not earth-shatteringly important. I had a piece of writing rejected for a conference (ouch!) but the organizer said I could submit something else that she would use (yay!). I may not be chosen to give a talk (boo), but that doesn’t keep me from pursuing other prospects (yay).
What does being turned down or rejected mean, really? I lost a contract (OUCH!). Did my life end? No. Were my legs cut off? No. Did anyone die? I doubt it. Did the loss of that opportunity open the door to a new, much more fulfilling direction for my work? YES. In retrospect, I’m grateful to have not been chosen, many years ago, for a couple of jobs that would never have suited me and weren’t half as interesting as the work I eventually found.
No sense pretending that rejection is not painful when it is. Better to give yourself a moment to feel the pain, with a few requisite comforts at the ready. Mine include chocolate, popcorn, and binge-watching Netflix. Yours?
As soon as you’re able, start moving in any way that brings you joy–walk, run, dance, garden, lift weights, etc. Blood pumping seems to have healing and brain cleansing effects and can prepare you to use the suggestion below-my power card.
As soon as I get a little energy back, or caffeinate myself back into normality, this is my ticket to real recovery. There’s never just one way to proceed towards my goals. When I’ve managed to shake off the discouragement that still comes with rejection (and damps down my creative juices), I’m amazed at all the options my creative mind will come up with when it’s invited to brainstorm and play. I may need to throw a fit first to clear the air. Then, there’s always a way forward.
So, if you’ve experienced rejection and the after-effects are starting to fog your mind, give yourself a moment to recover, then take a big swig of perseverance, a healthy dose of new energy, and a sprinkling of devil-may-care bravado, and carry on, because something that your heart really desires is out there waiting for you.
I promise. Call me if you need a boost!