My New Year’s resolution worked so well last year that I am making it again.
I didn’t resolve to clean around the outside of the toilet or floss my teeth daily.
I didn’t resolve to improve myself in any way.
In fact, my resolution makes no sense at all: I resolved to get more rejections.
Why would anyone want to get rejected? I hate to be rejected. It hurts when someone says no to something, for whatever reason. In Psych 101 we learned about two kinds of personalities: the people who believe bad things are just situational, temporary glitches in an otherwise sound world; and the people who take bad things as dispositional and attribute their failures to a lack on their own part—to their own unworthiness or incompetence. The personality test assigned me to the latter category, an even better reason to eschew failure no matter what.
But if you are scared of failure and rejection, guess what? You can’t succeed. No one can reject you if you don’t apply, but they can’t accept you either.
I remember hearing about the manager of a wildly successful computer company who came storming into the office one day saying, “this is just not acceptable!” His employees were utterly perplexed. All of their ideas had been working well, the company was at maximum profits, and here was their boss angry with them.
“You are not failing enough!” he insisted. “If you don’t fail, you’re not pushing the envelope. I want real innovation here. And real innovation means failed attempts. Now start making some mistakes!”
That’s what I set out to do last January—start making mistakes. I realized I was too complacent in my writing life and I wasn’t trying hard enough. I also realized that the only way to learn that rejection is not about me or who I am was to get more of it. The more I got rejected, I figured, the more I would be comfortable getting rejected. Instead of wallowing in self pity, wondering why an editor vetoed my idea, I could send it out again and get more rejections, thus fulfilling my New Year’s resolution and learning to be a situational instead of a dispositional thinker.
And it worked! I got scores of rejections.
But I also got something else: acceptances.
I broke into two writing markets I’ve been wanting to crack: “The New York Times” (a lifelong dream realized that I never would have pursued without my New Year’s resolution) and the “Christian Science Monitor,” a newspaper I’ve been admiring for years for their in-depth coverage of Africa. I also applied for an overseas fellowship, contacted editors at travel magazines, and wrote articles for the likes of Parenting and Budget Living. Since I needed to get rejections I couldn’t stay comfortable where I was, I had to look for new opportunities. And the dozens of rejections I got—I can wallpaper our entire house with them—started to sting less.
It’s not easy to keep a constant flow of rejections coming in and for awhile there was a lull. The inevitable let down happened and I walked into my husband’s office (he also works from home) with a long face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“So and so rejected another idea,” I sighed. “I thought this one would work. I can’t do this. I feel so bad.”
My husband gave me a hug. “There’s another way to look at it,” he said.
“You’re fulfilling your New Year’s resolution by getting rejected again! Good job!”
We both laughed and I went back to work. In my in-box was a message from an editor wanting to assign me an article she needed written. This same editor had rejected ten of my other ideas (but in an encouraging way, inviting me to send more).
I did a little happy dance.
That’s the thing about looking for rejection—along the way you may find what we all really want: acceptance.
NB: This post was originally a column in the Ashland Daily Tidings. I also wrote about rejection when I was the Creative Nonfiction Editor at Literary Mama.