Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Dealing With Rejection

When I was in Grade Six, I fell in love with a girl in my class, Kathy. She was smart and pretty, and I was smart and… pudgy. I did everything I could to win her over. Notes. Compliments. Jokes. Clearly tired by my advances, she finally told me she liked  another boy in our class, Craig. Moreover, she told me she liked Craig for his body and me for my brains. (Is that why I became a personal trainer? Hmm.) I was so infatuated with her that I started hanging out with Craig. I thought whatever he had might rub off on me.

It didn’t. My infatuation didn’t fade, however, and for the next three years, until the end of Grade Nine when I switched schools, I kept trying to convince Kathy to go out with me. I didn’t know it then, but if I were to sum up my writing life in one analogy, that’d be it.

These past two weeks, I’ve sent queries and sample pages to seventeen agents. So far, I’ve received six form rejections. Not a sniff of interest. Yes, it’s early. And yes, dealing with rejection is part of a writer’s life. But it still hurts. Especially when you really haven’t had much success in the field of your choice, when you’ve been chasing the same girl, the same dream, for twenty-odd years. I suppose I could try to spin that, try to come up with some positives when those form rejections pop up in my inbox, but I already did that this past weekend. When you take the long view, you can find some light in the darkness. In the moment? Well, in the moment it just sucks, and if you can’t accept that, can’t admit that it feels like your innards are being ripped through your nostrils, then either I want what you’re smoking or there’s an American Idol tryout in your future.

Here’s the thing, though. Most of us feel that way about one part of our life. Whether it’s our kids, our relationships with our family members, problems with our friends or a situation at work, it may not show up in our inbox from a literary agency in New York, but it still smells like rejection. Hell, often it feels like life itself is rejecting us. That all of our plans, all of our hopes and dreams somewhere, somehow, got flushed in life’s sewer, and gave us THIS LIFE instead. Depressing? Yes. Discouraging? Yes. Unusual? Nope.

And it’s that last part, how “unusual” we consider our experience, that strikes me as the one place you can find silver. (Maybe not a whole lining of silver, but a few rough nuggets) When someone tells me that I “can’t possibly understand how they feel,” I am acutely aware of two things: One, they’re right. I have no idea how anyone feels because I’ve never been, not to my knowledge at least, anyone else. Second, it tells me that such a person is in for a very long life, and so are the people around them. As much as the rejection, in whatever form, completely and totally feels like a rusty blade has been jammed into my ribs, I can take some comfort in knowing that we all have knives in us. That these are the things that make us human. And that most of the plans we make, even in an ideal society, usually go awry.

Does that make the form rejections in my inbox any easier to take? Nope. Do I still want to throw my laptop out the window and scream about how I’ve wasted my life pursuing something that very, very few people ever do well enough to succeed? Yes. But it’s also the moment when I identify with more people than I usually do, when I watch someone else fail and shake my head because I know how much it hurts. Rejection draws me closer to the people around me than success. Failure leaves a different kind of stain then the times when things have gone exactly as we hoped.

Some of us experience rejection on a daily basis, and with issues far more serious than a lifelong quest for a book deal. I’ve worked with many kids over the years who experienced rejection from one or both of their parents, and for reasons that were utterly enraging.

But anger isn’t the answer. Neither is giving up. Somehow we must find a way to live in that place where the healthiest of us manage to thrive, that place of dreaming and acceptance that acknowledges our humanity, acknowledges the random nature of life and the hardness of it, without pulling us away from the bigger visions God gives us. It’s a difficult place to be. It requires a self-esteem that doesn’t need extra attention for our particular difficulties, but one that is self-aware enough to know when we need a bit more help.

I’m not sure I’ve always fallen in such a balanced manner, and I’ve been grateful over the years for people who have modeled that gracious kind of life. If I could pick one difference in the ones who modeled grace and those who haven’t, that difference would be compassion and gratitude. That is, all of them had in some way dedicated a portion of their life to helping others, and all of them were grateful for the things they’d been given. Like extra legs on a table, this provided them with stability to face the storms and purpose to keep going when their own dreams didn’t work out as they’d hoped. It didn’t allow for the Navel-Gazing Trap or the Black Hole Syndrome characteristic of people who believe that “no one will ever understand.”

Listen, we understand. We’ve all been there. So what do we do when it happens? And really, is there a question in life more formative to our character than that one?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you what I’m going to do. Tonight, I’m going to allow myself to be upset for a little while and howl at the moon a bit. When I’m done, I’ll hug my wife, grateful I’ve been given such an amazing life partner. Tomorrow I’ll go to school, and on the way there, I’ll thank God for the trees and farms and the new commute to work this year, one that lets us live in a beautiful little home in a quiet section of the city. When I’m at school, I’ll encourage my kids to the best of my ability, walk with them while they negotiate early adolescence, and when I come home, I’ll make sure that our two young neighbours are doing okay. Somewhere along the way, my cats will get a number of belly rubs and I’ll share a laugh with my wife and friends.

And the next day? The next day, I’ll get up and keep writing.

Whatever your journey, wherever you are, keep going, my friends. You can do it. Even when it sucks, even when the girl of your dreams says ‘no’, your value is more than you can possibly imagine. And if we happen to meet along the way, maybe we can grab a coffee and talk about it. I’ve been there, too.

Much love,