Why Rejection is a Rite of Passion for Any Creative


You suck. Or do you?

young male standing on both sides of the line painted on concrete in black and white

I’ve been rejected a lot in my life – by both people and houseplants.

Yes, while other people successfully raise families, I can’t even successfully raise a fern. Though I follow the directions on the little plastic tab that comes in the pot, it sometimes takes a week; it sometimes takes a few months; but there’s one thing all plants that come into my life have in common: They commit suicide on me.

Being abandoned – even by something with leaves and a stem – feels pretty bad.

But rejection by people – friends, lovers, employers or even strangers – can drag you into a really dark place. It says you aren’t worthy; there’s surely nothing you can do to be worthy; and you should probably do the world a favour and follow the lead of my plants.

Right? That’s how it feels, anyway.

Then again . . . maybe, just maybe, rejection is whatever you say it is. That’s how my author and professor friend Susan Shapiro plays it. It started early on in her career as a writer, when she’d amassed quite a collection of rejection letters from magazine editors. But being Sue, she didn’t dump them in a drawer or use them to clean up cat puke. She pasted them all over her walls and threw a party.

I was at that first rejection-letter party, back in the late ’80s.

Sue now throws these parties regularly for her writing students. A rejection letter for an article or book is the ticket to get in. She makes her students tape theirs to her walls – next to her own. She explains to them that “a rejection from an editor (is) a great sign, because it (means you’re) out there, trying.” It’s just a process you go through – “a rite of passage.” She adds, “I especially loved the ones from publications who later bought my work.”

In Sue’s book Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus, she further explains the thinking that keeps her so intrepid: “In this biz, no never means no. (It means rewrite, retitle, respin, add a more timely lede, and resend it to the hopefully nicer editor at the next cubicle.)”

She’s right; however, it isn’t just in the writing biz that this is true. In life, what happens to you happens to you, but you retain some control over how you see it and what you do about it. With a little help from these buggers just  below.

Self-esteem has a few cousins

Self-esteem doesn’t quite have a family tree; it’s more of a family shrub. On it are a few branches of Selfs – Self-confidence, Self-acceptance, Self-compassion, Self-assertiveness, and Self-respect.

We tend to see all of these as feelings we can do little about. And that’s where we’re wrong.

Self-confidence, self-assertiveness, and self-respect come out of what we do – which means we can have more of each simply by doing things differently. Yay, right?

And though self-compassion and self-acceptance are feelings, they’re feelings we can choose to have. For example, you can just choose to accept yourself. Decide you’re going to do it, and then do it. And really, you need to – because you can’t very well expect other people to be nice to you if you aren’t willing to lead the way.

This is an edited extract from Amy Alkon’s science-based book, Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence (St. Martin’s Griffin, January 23, 2018). For more information, visit https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781250080868/

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