I received my first rejection letter the other day. It was a pretty heartbreaking. And I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to “take it in stride,” and “keep my chin up,” and “move forward,” and “dream bigger,” and all of those other things we’re supposed to do when things don’t go as we had hoped. But I couldn’t do any of those things. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Like I’d been lead on, then let down. I was hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed.
So I spent the day just being generally morose and mopey.
And then when people started getting sick of that attitude, I had to explain why I felt that way. Which meant I had to figure out why I felt that way. Sure, I was bummed that something I had tried hadn’t worked out. I was frustrated that I had invested time and energy into something I was confident would pay off and then it didn’t. I was defensive about being misunderstood. But it was more than all that.
It was that this was the first time I’ve ever received a rejection letter, so I didn’t have any practice dealing with the emotions that come with that. And that alerted me to a much bigger problem.
Why on earth am I getting my first rejection letter at the age of 32? I can promise you it’s not because I’m SO amazing that everyone in the world wants to hire me, fund my education, and publish my stuff. I’m pretty awesome, but no one is THAT awesome.
It’s because I’m not putting myself out there enough. I’m not giving anyone anything to reject.
When I was little I really wanted to be an actress. I dressed in gowns and practiced my oscar acceptance speeches and worked on my diva demands. But when it came time to audition, I was shy and terrified. I couldn’t even speak. While I yukked it up in middle school drama class, I never auditioned for the school plays because there was a chance I wouldn’t be cast.
In high school I fell in love with stories and majored in writing in college. I was positive I’d be an author or write regularly for magazines. My professors were always impressed with my work and I even won the University’s award of excellence in nonfiction writing. But I have never submitted a single piece for publication. Unfinished book proposals sit on floppy discs (Yes! Floppy discs!) that I don’t even know how to access. While I admire Stephen King and his story of pinning his first rejection letter to his wall as if it was a certificate of achievement, I was just not that brave. (By the way, if you’re at all interested in writing, Stephen King’s
On Writing is one of the best books I’ve read about life as a writer.) I just couldn’t believe that anything I wrote was really good enough to be published, so I never even tried.
And so I’ve managed to make a life out of playing it safe. Now I can hear you saying, “But Emily! You put yourself out there every day with your business! You put your designs out in the world for everyone to judge. You write this blog that at least a dozen people including your parents and closest friends read!” But it’s different. I can design an invitation and put it on my site and maybe no one will buy it. But maybe that’s because no one is seeing it! And sometimes 2 years later someone DOES buy it! So putting something out there and not seeing an immediate reward isn’t really a “no.” It’s more of a “not yet.” Just like doing your hair and wearing your tight jeans to a bar and not getting hit on isn’t the same as asking someone out and having a drink thrown in your face.
So where is this long walk down memory lane headed? Oh yeah. To my wake up call. Getting a rejection letter was in no way a signal to stop trying. It was a call to try more. To try harder. To try often and with reckless abandon. To reach way beyond my grasp. To put myself out there in new and scary ways. I actually kind of thought this was something I was already doing. Building a business takes guts. I tell people all the time to stop analyzing, stop asking “what if?” and just go for it. And I thought that was how I was living my life. But if I’ve been able to skate through gently for over 30 years without making many waves, pissing anyone off, or getting any gut-punching rejections, then I haven’t been living big enough.
It’s almost as if I’ve been rejecting myself before I even had a chance to get rejected by someone else. And that is a really sad thought.
But what made this time different? Why did I put myself out there and submit my work when there was a chance it might not be accepted? Because I thought it was pretty good! I thought it would get accepted! And then it hit me–it actually is good. And I really didn’t need it to be accepted because I had already accepted it. So someone else rejected it. Bummer. They’re losing out on the chance to work with me. Their opinion doesn’t all of a sudden make my work not good enough. It just wasn’t a good fit. And in the long run, it’s probably for the best. Because if I’m wasting my time on pursuits that aren’t quite the right fit, I’m missing out on all of the right opportunities. And if I hold back and don’t show anything at all? Well then the whole world is missing out on what I have to offer.
So I’m issuing a call to action. Put yourself out there. Your raw, unfinished, imperfect self. Give yourself a chance. Write something, paint something, apply for something, submit something, enter a contest, try out for a team, audition for a show. Give the world a chance to love you. And if they don’t? Screw ’em. And write a blog about what you learned and get back out there.