March 15, 2011

Maybe It's Me: Rejection, or, Will We Ever Stop Hearing "No"?

Rejection is a difficult thing to accept; and, it’s something we deal with our entire lives. Whether it’s being turned down by a love interest, the inability to love ourselves, being denied by the college or job of our choice, or not finding the same support or belief that we have in our dreams and passions, rejection is an inescapable element about life; a classic and fundamental part of a hero’s quest.

No matter how necessary of an evil it is, rejection hurts. Sometimes it’s just a faint sting, an annoyance more than anything; but, sometimes it can be all consuming, tearing us completely apart, and leaving us questioning everything. Why aren’t we good enough? What could we change to be better? How come everyone else believes in us, but the one person that matters the most?

Will we ever stop hearing “no”?

And the answer, simply, is no. No, we won’t.

If everything was handed to us, how would we learn to fight for what we believed in or work hard for the things we desired? If everyone was agreeable towards us, how would we learn to think for ourselves or appreciate our real friends? If we always won and never lost, we would never know how sweet victory can taste and how much defeat can drive us forward.

As “tough love” a concept as it may seem, maybe it’s me but we shouldn’t reject, but accept the fact, that rejection is an acceptable part of existing. It’s always been and will always be. We will never live in a world of complete acceptance, and we never have: Eve rejected God’s simple appeal to not eat the apple. As easy a request as it was she just didn’t listen, and as a result in lieu of a perfect existence she got a dose of Vitamin A and a heaping of rejection herself.

Rejection, however, doesn’t have to be synonymous with failure, and I feel like that’s where a lot of people are mistaken. Just because he said he wasn’t interested, doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of love. Just because you can’t find a job, doesn’t mean you’re not qualified for one. Just because you’re passion isn’t being recognized by “the authorities that be” doesn’t mean you’re unsuccessful.

Failure is when you give up; not when you get rejected.

We just live in a society that has a warped sense of what success is. What it means, what it looks and feels like. If anything (as with most things) we should be defining success ourselves.

Before I self-published my first book, I sent hundreds of query letters out to agents and publishers. Why? Because that’s what you do when you’re a writer and you want to be part of the literary business. Someone else, somewhere else, has to read your work and decide its good enough for the rest of the world to read.

After hundreds of rejection letters, I decided to self-publish. Or, as it’s cruelly called in the industry, “vanity publish.” I thought it was “good enough,” and that’s all that mattered – after spending years working on it, I couldn’t see the point in just letting it collect dust while other’s decided my fate. And I was right: the book won a dozen independent awards, received hundreds of positive reviews, and gained an incredible following of loyal fans.

I decided to approach all those publishers and agents once again, this time with proof that the book was worth their time, and deserving of being a part of the professional literary business. And after hundreds of rejection letters I was told that perhaps the book was destined to just remain in the self-published market. That I should try to maintain the interest in it, and maybe one day I would be able to “parlay it into a stronger, more visible ‘platform’ for myself.”

Because in the book business, as it is with all forms of art: publishers, investors, and corporations don’t care if your literary voice is unique, or if your talent is unparalleled, or if your insights are relatable or significant. They care solely about your aforementioned “platform” – which is to say, your established following, your media contacts, what worth you’ll bring to their already existing image and bank rolls.

And in that moment, when I realized the book wasn’t going to get picked up by a major publishing house, my heart began to hammer violently in my chest; a dark cloud rolled in and over my consciousness; and, everything I had spent years working for came crashing down around me.

I felt like a failure.

“I’m thinking about giving up writing,” I told my boyfriend simply. I wasn’t being a martyr; I wasn’t intentionally being self-deprecating to receive some undue attention or praise from him. I was being genuinely honest. What was it all for if I was continually going to be rejected?

“No, you should not. Keep being you,” was his firm response.

Keep being me?

What an empowering sentiment that was.

But, who was I? I was a girl who had already heard “no” once, and yet did things my way anyway. I was a girl who fought for what I believed in, who thought for herself, and who saw the value in both victories and defeats. I was a girl who knew how to deal with rejection: lovers, colleges, jobs, agents, and publishing houses didn’t get to choose how I felt when they said no. And they certainly didn’t get to decide the future of my dreams.

I was good enough for me.

I was changing what I could – what I felt I needed to – to be better.

I believed in me.

I was simply a girl being rejected, in a long line of girls historically being rejected.

And I was no failure.

Even if the answer was "no."