Rejection. For many, it can be one of the most soul-shattering, heart-crushing things to experience in life, sparking unwanted feelings of unworthiness and just sheer sadness. It's a bitter pill to swallow. But it doesn't have to be. And here's why.
I'm a writer. I first tiptoed into this industry at the very ripe, old age of sixteen(!), so, as you can imagine, I had little experience under my belt and few tricks up my sleeve. Because of this, I didn't know what to expect at all. I was walking into a minefield with a blindfold on. As a writer of short fiction, I can remember sending off my very first piece to only one publication. Yes, that's right. Just the one.
And, guess what? A month later, I received my first rejection letter.
Oh my goodness, I can recall thinking. My writing must be awful. I'm too young, that's what it is. I'll never get my work published. My writing must be awful. Oh, what do I do? I feel so useless. My writing must be so, so awful!
For the next few hours, I wallowed in what can only be classed as saddening self-pity. I lay face-down on the sofa, one hand hidden in the rapidly-emptying biscuit tin, trying to get any thought of writing out of my mind. I didn't want to read a single word. Quite frankly, I was sick of them. I hated the English language and rendered myself mute for the rest of the evening. Childish, I know.
Dealing with the Aftertaste
Later on, whilst reflecting on how I'd reacted, I admittedly felt a little embarrassed – but , I quickly told myself to stop feeling this way. After all, it was my first proper encounter with rejection, and I didn't quite know how to deal with it. As a perfectionist, I didn't take it lightly.
I'd spent weeks pouring my heart and soul into a mere one thousand words of fiction, but it meant so much more to me than just that. Here was a slice of my imagination, and it had been rejected! A flat-out, ‘not good enough'. But that's where I was wrong.
I slowly recovered from this minor loss by reading publishing-based blog posts and hearing what other writers had to say. I was surprised yet relieved to hear that every single other person had faced rejection, too. Countless times. I quickly learnt that when a literary journal rejects your work, it doesn't necessarily mean it's no good – it could be too short, too long, too similar to another submission, or the wrong genre. I, however, had looked past all of these possibilities, and in the true style of ‘Overthinker Oakeby' (as I refer to myself as), had cliff jumped to the conclusion that my writing was poor .
After this realisation, I submitted the same piece to ten more publications, slammed down my laptop lid, shut my eyes and crossed my fingers.
And, guess what? A month later, I received my first acceptance letter.
Was it Worth It?
Putting my joy aside, I sat down and considered what notes I could take from this whirlwind of an experience. As an anxiety sufferer, an overthinker and a generally complicated person, rejection as a whole has always been weaved throughout every fear I've ever endured – the fear of not being good enough, not reaching standards, or not being wanted. This can be applied to education, relationships, or in this case, work.
If I hadn't found the strength to continue submitting and writing and writing and submitting, I wouldn't have achieved anything that I have so far. I allowed myself to feel upset, but made sure to study these emotions closer. Because of this, I understood there was a multitude of potential reasons for my rejection – most of which didn't have anything to do with me.
And this is something I'm grateful that I've learnt. As complex beings, we tend to take the full brunt of rejection when faced with it, questioning and blaming ourselves. We don't stop to think about the person or people who are doing the rejecting in the first place. More often than not, it's a lot more reflective of them than it is of us.
Whilst writing this article, I did a little experiment. So far, among all the positive things that are happening, including my publications, freelance work and exciting projects, I've received a grand total of…thirty-eight rejection letters. With each and every one that pings into my inbox, I feel less and less negatively affected. Instead of throwing a strop and internally calling the publication every rude name under the sun, (apologies, but these things happen to the best of us),
I understand that my work wasn't right for them at that particular moment, and that better things are coming.
I try and apply this to every aspect of my life. There are some situations that we just cannot control, whether we like it or not. I read a quote once:
This sums it up beautifully. Although the actual rejection may be focused towards you, try and take yourself out of the situation completely. Just because you weren't right for one person, doesn't mean you won't be suitable for the next twenty. If you don't keep battling this pain and crushing your inner demons as you do so, you'll allow it to get the better of you.
Get to Know Rejection
If I hadn't received that first rejection letter, things would be very different within my current sphere of life . Today, as a seventeen year old, I understand that rejection will be around the corner for many, many years to come. Now, though, I've got the strength to be able to look it in the eyes and say, hi, Rejection! How are you?
Make it your friend, not your enemy. You'll be stronger because of it.