Rejection: it can erode you, should you remain stagnant, or propel you into the current, leaving you feeling uncomfortably displaced, yet still on the path to something new.
Less metaphorically: Rejection sucks. It will hurt you, but – it can help you. It just depends on whether you let it hold you back or persist forward anyway.
I’m a sensitive person. It’s part of who I am, and I used to shy away from admitting it, but as I’ve explored my personality type, I’ve begun to appreciate my sensitivities because they make me, well, me.
Sensitivity is what allows me to find meaning in the mundane, compels me to create – to write. And yet, why is it that those who are most sensitive are writers? Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, once said,
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent, he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
The irony does not escape my literary mind: Those who pursue a career where you unburden your soul on paper only to have it torn apart by nameless, faceless figures behind a desk somewhere, the executioners of dreams, are among the most sensitive of individuals. So that’s why they call the artist tormented? We must produce what our hearts urge, with all likelihood of being misunderstood rather than appreciated, discouraged rather than encouraged, rejected rather than accepted.
So – I’m left with the question – how does one retain the necessary sensitivity to be a writer while developing “a thick hide”?
Here’s what other writers have had to say about learning how to face rejection while remaining in a creative space.
“I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.” – David Mitchell
The all-consuming quiet and the world seeming to “stop rotating” is an all too relatable sentiment. The moment when you open the letter you have been checking for each day, preparing to congratulate yourself on a job well done, only to see the words “we regret to inform you,” a cascade of emotions rains down, and you fall from the pinnacle to the depths. Mitchell is onto something here, though. Acknowledging truth of our weaknesses, while hard to stomach, improves us. Without criticism, there would be no evolution as a writer.
“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” – Ray Bradbury
Acceptance breeds complacency. Acceptance without the heartache of rejection robs you of the true joy of achievement. The bitter taste of rejection allows you to appreciate the sweetness of acceptance.
“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.” – Anita Shreve
Perhaps part of the process is modifying our expectations. Living on the precipice of that “big break” is dangerous because it’s a far fall; it may not be the “break” we were hoping for, after all. Expecting rejection, while still pushing towards our goals, prevents the crushing blow of that four letter word: fail.
“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to become blasé, especially for us sensitive types. When all else fails, and we can’t help but embrace our feelings, why not channel that pain into productivity? I’m not naturally an angry person, and anger can be the enemy of growth if it causes us to close our ears. But, when refined, anger can be powerful fuel to success.
“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’”
Anger motivates. Rather than feeling defeated, harnessing those emotions and saying, “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show you” is a critical step in a writer’s transformation.
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath
The worst thing a writer can do is feed impostor syndrome, that ever-lurking presence in the back of our minds. Let this be my goal: rather than being disheartened by rejection, I will revel in the reminder that I put myself out there and learned something that will sharpen the edges of my sword with each stroke.
“Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are.”
Rejection is not synonymous with failure. Rejection is the stepping-stone to success.
So – as I ruminate on my recent rejection, I also find peace in the process. I waited on that dangerous precipice these last few weeks, certain an acceptance letter was only a moment away. I was keeping my favorite pen, inscribed with “DO WHAT YOU LOVE” on stand-by as the perfect photo prop, ready to rest on my gleaming letter of acceptance.
Only – I didn’t get accepted. I was met with yet another gently-worded denial that dropped my heart into my stomach like a weight. Yet – after reflecting on the insights of those who pushed past the heartache of rejection before me, I’m prepared to let rejection motivate me. I haven’t failed because, here I still sit, illustrating my subconscious. My feelings will get hurt, and I will get angry at times, but I will not lose my resolve. I will embrace my sensitivities, pour them onto paper, evolve like quicksilver.
So – here’s my new photo, a deviation from the plan, but just as apt. I have a lot of work to do, but I will continue to do what I love.