Ask yourself, ‘what can I learn from this, how can I do better?’ Whether you win or lose, be proud you took a risk.
I was preparing my lecture for an upcoming workshop when a writing friend emailed me and shared his angst over a rejection to a magazine submission in his genre.
It came as a surprise because the guy has mad talent, so I wrote back and assured him we’d look at his piece together and see what could be improved.
This made me think.
Rejection seemed to be this month’s theme. One friend has been agonizing about being rejected for a job he’d applied for. My daughter didn’t win a competition, and I, myself, had been dealing with issues of loss.
Rejection gives you clarity. It makes you reflect on what needs to change and what can be pruned. Rejection is not about failure, it’s realizing what matters most.
For example, last Saturday was one of the best days of my life.
My daughter and I took a road trip to Tampa so she could perform in a national poetry recitation competition. She slayed the first round, and her teacher confided to me she thought she had a good chance of winning.
During an intermission, before we received word of her results, I took my little girl’s hand and told her what I felt in my heart.
“No matter what happens today, I am so incredibly proud of you,” I said, “You have immense bravery and confidence and it takes courage to do what you just did.”
She had tears in her eyes, and her hand shook with nerves.
Parents have to be loving and supportive, but I meant what I said. Win or lose, I was proud of her for taking a risk. Speaking in public is a top fear for many, and my once shy daughter has blossomed into an outspoken young lady.
After round two, she came back to her seat in tears.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered. “You were fantastic.”
“I bombed,” she whispered back.
The second poem she’d shared was the longest one in the competition. To me, it sounded flawless, but then she told me she’d forgotten an entire stanza.
My eyebrows shot up in surprise.
When other contestants had forgotten a portion, they’d stumbled and some had asked to start over. My daughter had made it through the entire piece without skipping a beat.
Since I’d never heard the poem before, I wasn’t aware something was missing.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. “You did your best, and that’s all that matters.”
She was physically and emotionally drained during the ride home. The first hour she didn’t talk a lot, but eventually her smile returned and the familiar sparkle in her eyes came back. We played her favorite songs and shared personal stories. We talked about friendships and goals, broken hearts, and her future.
I recanted stories about when she was small, and when the time seemed right, I shared my thoughts on rejection.
“Rejection makes you hungry for the win,” I said. “The losses of my past made me stronger. Ask yourself, ‘what can I learn from this, how can I do better?’ Whether you win or lose, be proud you took a risk. So many people fear rejection and stay stagnant. You are braver than you know.”
She listened to me ramble then asked to play her music.
Soon we were dancing in our seats, giggling, being our usual silly selves.
“One more thing,” I said while she was shuffling through her playlist. “Put this moment in your awesome bank.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“My awesome bank is a place that holds memories of failures and wins. I think about the hardest things I’ve done in life, things I survived, like childhood, winning a weight lifting contest, natural childbirth, and presenting my thesis during my last residency. In my bank, I also remember the failures: rejection letters from my first novel, the first time I applied for grad school, my marriage, unrequited love. I remember the pain I initially felt, how the world seemed to have slapped me in the face, how I brooded a while then eventually picked myself up, put my big girl pants on, and forged ahead. Had I given up after those failures, I wouldn’t be where I stand today: graduating with my M.F.A. in three months, working on a better novel, being single and finally at peace with who I am.”
She nodded and turned to face the window.
I let her alone with her thoughts then keyed up the Grease soundtrack.
A minute later, we were singing and hand-jiving, laughing at drivers that passed who gave us quizzical looks.
Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean failure. To me it means an opportunity to improve, to try harder, to see what’s worth investing in, and what to release. I hope my daughter will find inspiration from her failures. I wish the same for my friend, for my fellow writers…
And hopefully, for myself.