As previously seen on Wit & Delight
Editor’s Note: As we come to a close on January, a month where we explored the idea of becoming a recovering perfectionist, we’re sharing an article from the archives that was written in the same spirit. This post, penned by Megan McCarty in 2019, is a guidebook to coming to terms with the big, bad metaphorical wolf that is rejection. We hope you find insights in her words.
What’s the worst they can say? No?
This phrase ping-pongs around my head a lot when I’m pretending to be brave. I’ve thought of it every time I’m applying for a new job or asking a favor of a friend or sending a pitch to a publication.
There are a few life lessons I keep learning over and over. 1. You have to ask for what you want. 2. Sometimes you won’t get it. 3. Other times you will get it, and it’ll make all the other embarrassing, time-consuming, or heartbreaking times when you didn’t worth it.
As a writer, I’m constantly baring my bleeding heart. That pitch that I thought would be the Next Big Idea? Well, my editor didn’t. That other pitch I thought was going to truly change my career? Nope, it went nowhere. Countless versions of “unfortunately” emails trickle into my inbox, and even then I feel lucky that I received a response at all. (Turns out editors are just as good at ghosting as men I’ve dated.) But after reading this New York Times piece, I’ve decided to embrace rejection.
It’s empowering, they say! It’s gritty! Everyone loves the word gritty!
So I set a goal. By my 31st birthday in April, I wanted to receive 50 rejections, 50 “unfortunatelys.” It’s a grown-up version of the “shoot for the moon” theory. Even if I miss, I thought, I’d land amongst some stars, right?
Turns out failing is fun for exactly nobody, but it’s a necessary lesson to, well, lessen the blow of rejection. Like it or (more likely) not, rejection will happen again and probably again and then definitely again for the rest of your living days.
Turns out failing is fun for exactly nobody, but it’s a necessary lesson to, well, lessen the blow of rejection. Like it or (more likely) not, rejection will happen again and probably again and then definitely again for the rest of your living days. It’s now almost spring and so far I’ve written for a new dream publication, am in cahoots with a hotel management company I’ve been wanting to collaborate with, and yes, that editor I adore would like to have coffee this week.
I’m also failing at a greater rate than ever before. I interviewed for a potential dream job and wrapped my head around the idea of moving to New York before I got—whaddya know—rejected. I was also yanked around by a man who liked me, then didn’t, then sorta did, then didn’t again, as if he were playing Love You, Love You Not with flower petals and my feelings. Rejected. That magazine I told everyone I was going to start writing for had their budget slashed. I’m racking up rejections every day, and though sometimes I want to crawl under the covers, the rewards that accompany a yes are just too good to give it up.
There’s a particular type of vulnerability to getting rejected. It’s personal, or so it seems. I don’t like your idea, I’m not attracted to you, you’re not smart enough for this job. You, you, you, you, you. Though, like most things in life, usually, it’s not about you. In my case, maybe my pitches tanked because that editor already had a similar story in the pipeline or, hell, I don’t know, hadn’t eaten lunch yet.
The only way to get better at rejection? Do it, then do it again. It’s exposure therapy. The more comfortable you feel being rejected, the less you’ll fear it. The more you dive into the deep end, the less you’ll worry about cracking your head open.
The only way to get better at rejection? Do it, then do it again. It’s exposure therapy. The more comfortable you feel being rejected, the less you’ll fear it.
All this rejection talk reminds me of an interview I saw with singer/witch/magical human being Maggie Rogers lately. She’s known for heart-piercing lyrics, which apparently has been a lifelong defense mechanism for her. In middle school, she said, she’d tell all of the boys she liked that she had crushes on them immediately. “Because I felt like if he just knows, then no one can hurt me. If I tell the entire world my deepest, darkest secrets, then I’m bulletproof.”
Bulletproof. I like that. Because so often, for every “unfortunately” email, there’s often a “try again!” Every door that closes, well, you know what happens. So I’ll keep at it, winning some, losing some more. Do the same, will you?
1. Remind yourself why you do this. Because you were born to be a you name it, because you want to find love, because _____ means _____ to you. Fill in the blanks.
2. Take a break. It’s exhausting and disheartening to hear no so often. So take care of yourself and trust you’ll get back into the swing of vulnerable things soon enough.
3. Make a mental note of your Top People. Editors who make your sentences sing, your personal cheerleader friends, that college professor who believed in you more than you did. Appreciate them and lean on them.
4. Read this Elizabeth Gilbert passage often. “Send your work off to editors and agents as much as possible, show it to your neighbors, plaster it on the walls of the bus stops – just don’t sit on your work and suffocate it. At least try. And when the powers-that-be send you back your manuscript (and they will), take a deep breath and try again. I often hear people say, ‘I’m not good enough yet to be published.’ That’s quite possible. Probable, even. All I’m saying is: Let someone else decide that. Magazines, editors, agents – they all employ young people making $22,000 a year whose job it is to read through piles of manuscripts and send you back letters telling you that you aren’t good enough yet: LET THEM DO IT. Don’t pre-reject yourself. That’s their job, not yours. Your job is only to write your heart out, and let destiny take care of the rest.”
Megan is a writer, editor, etc.-er who muses about life, design and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker and more. Her life rules include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tip in cash and contribute to your IRA. Be a pal and subscribe to her newsletter Night Vision or follow her on Instagram.
BY Megan McCarty - January 31, 2021
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