“Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.” – Anne Lamott
This week, I got the wind knocked out of me.
I submitted a piece I wrote for publication online and was swiftly rejected the same day.
A couple of times I’ve submitted articles that were completely ignored and somehow this was easier on my fragile ego because I told myself that maybe the editors hadn’t read what I wrote. (In reality, in these cases, it’s probably even more of an insult that I wasn’t even worthy of a rejection email, but I’m going to take that piece of information and sweep it under the rug.)
This is the first time I’ve received an actual rejection email, and it stings, like the feeling you have when you’re dumped by your boyfriend. If you’ve never been dumped, compare it to the feeling when you didn’t get the job you applied for. If you’ve never experienced either of these events, I don’t want to know you (kidding).
The feeling of rejection reminded me of a memory I haven’t thought of in years. I was 12 years old and sitting by my first ever frenemy in band class. My frenemy, (we’ll just call her Nikki) with her long, tan, shiny legs, and her ability to flirt with every junior high school boy without even trying, was discussing the upcoming popularity vote for the yearbook categories of “Most Likely to Succeed”, and “Best Eyes”, etc.
Nikki glanced at me with a side eye and a grin and asked me, “What category do you think you could win, Kristen?”
I thought about it, and with my junior high school nickname of “Peacemaker,” and the way I was raised to believe that kindness trumps everything in importance, it only made sense for me to naively answer, “Best Personality.”
Nikki laughed. Out loud. She LOLed all over my idea that I could be deemed as someone with the best personality. In the moment, I thought, “Ohhhhh. Kind isn’t cool.”
This is how I felt the night I read the rejection email. “Ohhhhh. I’m not funny. I’m not talented.” At the very bottom, the fear in this kind of moment is always some version of, “I’m not enough.”
I sat down to watch a stupid comedy with my husband, but I couldn’t even pay attention through the fog of my hurt feelings.
I crumbled into my bed and tried to turn my Labrador into the therapy dog she could have been. My husband awkwardly tried to comfort me, but he didn’t really know what to say. We had a moment of ESP when he repeated the same thought that I’d just had with, “At least we have our home. Think of what all of the people are going through with the wildfires.”
This is one of my least favorite things about being human: Even when I know that I’m in the throes of a self-centered ego-filled moment and that I only ever have First World problems and have so much to be grateful for, it doesn’t take the pain of the moment away. If anything, it only makes me feel more ashamed that I can’t shut my ego down.
I got about four hours of sleep that night.
First of all, I know that I argued in this post that who we essentially are goes beyond all of the categories that the ego tries to attach itself to. This means that I’m not my failures or successes in the writing world, but my ego’s attachment to these things makes me feel that I am. I haven’t forgotten the fact that I’m a spiritual being having a human experience, but sometimes the human experience part of the equation is painful as hell.
Second of all, I’m not following “The Four Agreements” that I touted in last weeks post. I’m taking the rejection personally and making assumptions about why the editor rejected the piece.
Clearly, I write and preach about the topics and concepts that I want to apply to myself, but I’m coming up short in the application department.
But here’s what’s getting to me: When someone reads the essence and truth of who you are and takes a pass on it, how do you not take it personally?
The harsh reality is there are people in life who will take a pass on who you are, what you have to offer, and maybe even your heart and soul. This is a given in life. It’s what we do with this reality that defines our character.
I was reading “The Cat in the Hat” with my son the other night, and there was a tribute to Dr. Seuss in the back of the book. It mentioned that Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected by publishers 28 times. Can you imagine getting rejected 10, then 20, then 28 times, and still trying again? This is someone that truly believed in himself, and thank goodness he did, as he is arguably the most beloved children’s author to date.
The rejection that I will continuously have to face as a writer will test everything about my character, and I want to model for my children a gangster Dr. Seuss spirit instead of embodying a downtrodden Eeyore.
Thus, my new mantra in the face of rejection is more Seuss, less Eeyore. And I’m also following Anne Lamott’s advice to tape the phrase “Lighten Up” to my computer.
Writing, along with art of any kind, is completely subjective, so maybe the editor was wrong to take a pass on my piece. It took me many years to learn that Nikki was wrong. Kind is cool, and I might feel the slightest bit smug about it when I see countless shirts that say so at my son’s elementary school.
I’m done with the 12-year-old girl inside of me that lets others plant seeds of doubt in her mind. I’m done with her, but she isn’t quite done with me, yet. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a lot more rejection, and hopefully more wins too, to get to the point where I can make her take a seat.
Acknowledging her existence is half the battle, and at least I can thank the editor for the parting gift of writing material.
More Seuss, less Eeyore. Stat.