I was at the farm when I got the email, which is remarkable in that my reception at the farm is always spotty so I don't usually bother checking much. When I saw the sender and the subject title (re: your submission) my heart leapt and I rushed to open it, praying the few bars I had would be enough for the content to load. It was and as I scanned over the words of the message I found myself smiling despite what those words said. It was a rejection letter. My first rejection letter.
Well, to be clear this wasn’t my first rejection letter of all time. I’ve received plenty of those. In fact, there were a few weeks in 2001 when I received a string of rejection letters from almost every college I applied to. Even the mailman started giving me sympathetic looks as I hopefully awaited his arrival. This email was my first rejection letter for a writing submission. And while outwardly I received that solid, unmistakable “no,” inside I was warm and even unmistakably happy.
I’d thought about submitting pieces to magazines and online publications forever. I’d toy with the essay contest for Real Simple each month, spend an inordinate amount of time researching “how and where to submit writing samples," think about what I’d write and where I’d submit it, sometimes actually start said submission but never, ever did I actually write, edit, finish and submit any of my writing.
I don’t even remember exactly what was the catalyst for this submission. For months I’d been circling the 15th in my calendar each month as a reminder that this was the deadline for submissions to a particular online magazine. Each and every month the 15th would pass and I would fail to send anything, worried that whatever I’d been working on wasn’t quite “right” for their site. I do remember, when I finally did finish something, thinking, this may not be quite what they’re looking for, but screw it. Send it anyway. And before I had a chance to overthink it or back out, I did.
And, a few weeks later I heard back from them. The response to my very attempt at the sacred act of “putting yourself out there” in this area of my life was a resounding (but very kind and polite) no.
And so, in the face of that first rejection I became surprised at the overriding emotion of… pride. I wasn’t upset at being told “thanks, but no thanks.” Instead I was proud that I’d had the courage to follow through and submit something in the first place. Instead of deleting that email, dejected, I smiled a little to myself and saved that sucker, proof that I’d been brave and vulnerable and lived to tell the tale.
In his memoir “On Writing” author Stephen King writes about how he used to stick all of his rejection letters to a nail in his wall and that by the age of 14 he’d had to upgrade to a spike because the nail could no longer support the weight of all those letters. By the age of fourteen he’d had the courage to submit enough work that a nail couldn’t hold all the proof of his chutzpah! I marveled over this story when I read it and committed to racking up at least a few more rejection emails.
I now have a file, nested under Personal in my complex and numerous gmail label system, entitled “rejections!” It looks just like that, too, with the ! serving as a reminder that these emails are exciting! They are not rejections, but rather marks of your daring, your chance taking, your “putting it out there-ness”! Collect them happily because it means you are trying. In 2018 I just may set a goal for myself to receive a certain number of those emails.
This is easy to say, at the beginning of this journey. When that file has accumulated hundreds of “thanks, but no thanks” emails, I may not be so cheerful about my rejection epiphany. Be careful what you wish for and all that jazz.
But I am careful about what I’m wishing for. I’m wishing to be brave and bold. I’m wishing to follow through on long held dreams. I’m wishing to show up and do the work for the work’s sake. I’m wishing to put myself out there a bit more, to dare and chance and dream. And so if all I end up with is an email file filled with receipts that I tried and took a risk I will still have gotten what I wished for.
And so, fellow dreamers, this one is for you. Could we do this? Can we wear letters of rejection as badges of honor, a testament to our bravery? Can we face the fear and celebrate when we survive that of which we were so afraid? What are your "rejection letters" and how can you flip the script on them?
Let’s do this, friends. Make your own rejections! pile and let them stack up, smiling with each one. Follow in the footsteps of Stephen King and really rack ‘em up, high-fiving your chutzpah along the way. Let’s try something, be brave, put ourselves out there and fail. And then let’s happily get up and try again.