Coping With Rejection
First, let’s set the record straight. We don’t want to just cope with rejection. We want to cope with it constructively.
Allowing rejection to shove us into a mental pit of despair isn’t healthy and we don’t want that to be part of our personal program. So let’s resolve to find a constructive way to cope with rejection and not permit it to put us into that black hole.
To avoid despair, we need information. Back-up. Intel from the front lines. We all do time in the pit. And we all crawl out of it with insights.
We are not alone.
When it comes to rejection, it is true that “misery loves company.” The reason isn’t that we want anyone to put themselves (or their work) out there and have it stomped. It’s that we all want the reassurance we are not the only stomping victims on the planet. We want to know we are not alone.
Rejection is a normal part of life.
We need to know rejection is a normal part of life—and it is. But frankly, few of us are great at handling it and we don’t want more practice. Ever hear the old saying about revenge? That it’s a dish best served cold? Well, rejection is a dish best frozen and kept on ice. It won’t stay in a locked freezer, but freezing it gives us time to learn to handle it with minimal destruction and disruption.
Rejection feeds our insecurities.
Rejection often overwhelms. Only a rare few avoid it either personally or professionally, yet we still tend to take rejection personally. We assign blame and see ourselves as flawed. Rejection feeds our insecurities—and, if we’ve reached puberty, we’re home to some kind of insecurity.
Whatever that insecurity is, our being rejected pounds on it, and too many beat themselves up instead of remembering that, at some point, rejection zaps us all. The majority of us get hammered personally and professionally; sometimes, simultaneously. Rather than feed our insecurities, we need to recall we’re in great company. And we’ve got lots of it. That’s a fact.
We are logical and emotional beings.
I’m a writer, and over the years, I’ve seen writers, new and seasoned bestsellers, pitch books, get rejected, and be devastated. It’s a given that devastation is not constructive and it doesn’t do a thing to help us. But we’re human, and humans are are logical and emotional beings. Our emotions need to be vented constructively, too. Headaches, ulcers and digestive tract upsets we do not need.
So vent. Give yourself a set amount of time to emotionally react to rejection. (I’m applying this to books, but you can apply the principle to your specific situation, personal or professional.)
Great hopes… dashed.
As writers, we create prospective projects from nothing. We have great hopes for these books, and along comes a subjective editor/agent and dashes them. It’s hard not to take the rejection of our creations personally, but it’s not fair to take it personally, either. More on that momentarily. Right now, we’re mired in disappointment and emotional turmoil. We need to release our frustration and disbelief. To express our indignant selves until we get a grip on our emotions. How long do we indulge in this emotional explosion? I allow myself five minutes.
How long do we indulge in the emotional explosion?
Yes, you read that right. Five minutes. No more, and no less. I want to explode and ditch upset not implode and simmer in it. Wallowing, lingering mired in the muck, does nothing to change the situation. So the objective is to get it done, put it behind you, and then press on.
Early on, I thought I needed longer to emotionally react to rejection. I was wrong. Refocusing on the solution—which can actually fix what’s broken—soonest is better emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Deal with it and put it to bed, then invest in moving forward.
These days, parking in the pit of despair a full five minutes is really stretching it. I’ve learned from experience that rejection honestly isn’t worth more of my energy than that—even if it’s an excellent rejection. Still, the human being needs to react emotionally and gets ill when it doesn’t, so give it its due season. Don’t let your wounds fester. Set a block of time and react. Then put the rejection in your rearview mirror where it belongs and set your sights on the road ahead and what’s next.
The dust settles.
Emotional explosion time is up, the dust settles, and you’re calm again. Now, re-read or mentally re-live the rejection. In your review, is anything of value disclosed to help you move ahead? Is there some advice or wisdom or insight that’s a gem? If so, snag and incorporate it. If not, file the rejection in a folder labeled, “Forget This.”
Why file Forget This rejections?
You’re probably wondering… If there’s no value or gem, why file it at all? Because today’s trash might be tomorrow’s treasure. Tomorrow or next month, next year, or even five years from now, this rejection might not be worthless. It might be valuable to you then—a badge of honor, a stepping stone you can read after you’ve done what you set out to do, and smile to yourself. You did it… anyway. That can be a great source of amusement and foster a wonderful sense of accomplishment. See how far you’ve come!
A writer friend wallpapered a bathroom in her office with rejection letters. Every time she went in there, she grew more and more resolved to sell and sell big. She has. It’s taken several years, but she’s now making the NYT bestseller list regularly. She used the rejection letters as motivation. She used them constructively.
Rejection is rarely all about you.
While we tend to take rejection personally, it’s important to develop a realistic attitude. Rejection is rarely all about you. Or all about your work. Actually, rejections often have nothing to do with you or the work. They’re the result of current buying patterns, of already purchased patterns, of user (reader) demographics, of overall market conditions, or of a particular decision-maker’s personal preferences and sphere of expertise—which well might be far away from your personal preferences and outside your expertise sphere.
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
The point? Many rejections are due to influences totally outside the quality of the work. Many personal rejections are, too. In these cases, the rejection has nothing to do with you but everything to do with the person rejecting you. Sometimes when someone says, “It’s not you, it’s me,” it really is; they’re telling you the truth.
One of the most irksome kinds of rejection is one that comes without comment. That leaves us questioning everything and grappling to figure out why we or our work was rejected. This drives people up the proverbial wall. Some, to the point they are tempted to contact the rejecter and ask why. In a word, don’t.
Writers, editors and agents are overworked. They have a set number of hours in a day to do their jobs and a responsibility to those they already represent to address their needs. Like us, others live in a perpetual time-crunch with too much to do and never enough time. Newcomers asking for consideration get a small slice of whatever time remains uncommitted or whittled out. This is why responses take time, and a large part of why many don’t offer comments.
Mindset Reality Check.
That’s frustrating for the writer. How could it not be? Crawl inside the writer’s mind and what you see is this: Your work (and not you personally, which is an important distinction for you to understand) is being rejected and you have no idea why. To deal with this frustration constructively, what you need is a mindset reality check. Not friendly, but fair and also, unfortunately, fact.
An agent/editor who is not already representing you owes you nothing—including comments. Personal comments are a huge demand on an agent/editor’s time and most simply don’t have that time to give you. The agent doesn’t work for you. This is why when an agent/editor reviews your proposal–even if they later reject it–you should feel gratitude. They have gifted you with their time.
In case you haven’t slowed down long enough to put this into its proper perspective, their time directly impacts their earnings so they must use it wisely. Even more importantly, like your time, their time is an actual piece of their life. Life is valuable to all of us.
To specifically ask for comments is making a demand on someone you have no right to make. Now, if person is gracious enough to gift you with comments–even if they’re negative–that warrants gratitude. They are not obligated to tell you anything except whether or not they are interested in your work.
Depend on peers to help you pinpoint challenges, if any, in your work. A trusted friend, in personal matters, if you need to talk through the rejection to emotionally let go of it. Work one-on-one with a partner who is about where you are, or a rung or two higher, on the career ladder, or whose personal life mirrors or echoes what you’d like yours to become. One who can pinpoint and be constructively specific about what elements would benefit you.
You may or may not get this kind of insight from family members or friends. They want to spare your feelings, to be supportive and gentle, or they lack the expertise and insights you need professionally. For that insight, a writer needs another writer.
Writers read like writers. At times, this is a curse because reading for entertainment is pretty much shot. The writing reader reads and automatically does a critical analysis. It goes with the territory and it’s a rare book that allows the writer to escape that. But that critical analysis is what you’re after. You need someone in your profession with analytical skills.
Be sane about rejections. They are and will be a part of your life. Your faith in yourself and in your work must remain steadfast. That faith carries you until “No, thanks” becomes “Yes, let’s.”
The “No, thanks” time is hard, no doubt about it. But we all go through it. Even the Harry Potter novels were rejected before someone said “Yes, let’s” and they rocketed to over $5 Billion superstardom. (Bet those rejecting editors have had some bad days over that.) Yet, it happens, which is why no rejection should have the power to generate doubt in you about you or your work. What’s important to recall is rejection only has that power if you grant it.
Your quality of life depends on…
It’s worth noting that being rejected is preferable to hooking up with the wrong person or entity. Be picky about your choices. Your quality of life depends on it. In your alliances, be in sync. Be invested. Share your desired path and the journey’s map or plan.
Alliances, personal or professional, are not decisions to be made lightly or just because someone offered. These choices represent you to the world, become integral fabric in your world and influence a great deal that structures your life. Be comfortable with your choices.
Know what you want and need in your alliances.
Professionally, I love agents and editors who are part-shark, part-dove, and all brilliant with great personalities. Ones who don’t cram me in a writing box or cringe when I send in a synopsis with an embedded comment like: “I’m not sure what happens here yet,” and s/he trusts me that whatever does happen there will be logical and fit the story and is okay knowing I won’t know exactly what that something is until I write the book. I love agents and editors who are enthused and love what I write, whose opinions I respect and admire, and who respect my opinions. And I absolutely require straight talkers. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
I’m telling you this because authors too often are so eager to be represented that they overlook nailing down what they want/need in an agent. They just want someone to agree to take them on. That kind of mindset can lead to harmful choices that can keep on hurting for years. No one in any career needs a mindset capable of that kind of harm. The best agent or editor in the world is not the greatest unless s/he is the greatest for you. You, not a hypothetical person, will be working closely with these individuals. Clashes of personality, vision, or work ethics neither of you need.
Rejection is a big-screen blip.
Rejections are just a blip on your big screen. Remember that searching for the right partner, the frustrations of finding yet another wrong-for-you partner, are still just blips. When you’re going through it, it doesn’t feel like a blip, but truly it’s exactly that: a blip.
Personally, continue to grow and know yourself and what you’re looking for in life. What matters most?
Professionally, continue to grow, to learn, to hone your skills. Find a one-on-one professional partner and work your heart out, never for a moment forgetting your steadfast faith in your work will sustain you until the blips are history and those frustrations are memories.
Let nothing drive you nuts.
Rejection can be overwhelming. It can be hard to handle. It can test your patience, try your nerves, and make you nuts. But it can only do those things if you allow it to do them. You choose. You decide. Use your mind and your voice and make wise choices.
If you break it, you bought it.
Remember when stores had those little signs: If you break it, you bought it? Your reaction to rejection is like that sign. If you let it break you, then you—not the rejection but you—bought it. That means you are responsible and you own it.
You can allow rejection to diminish your faith, depress the spit out of you, or convince you that your work is a pipedream. You can decide that person you’re attracted to is out of your league and you don’t deserve a chance with him or her. You can do any or all of that. Or you can choose to accept the realities offered, the insights gained about rejection, and you can choose to react constructively, and go for what you most want.
I chose to go for what I most wanted. It took time to sell that first book, and I’ve been rejected many times since then. But here I am. Still standing. Still writing. I’ve gotten “the call” and been accepted by an array of prominent editors and agents. Now I’m up to 41 books, published in as many as 63 countries, and I’ve had hundreds of articles published. (Lost count of them long before taking on the weekly column.)
I made my choice on coping with rejection. Five minutes. No more and no less. Now, you must make your choice. Before you do, I want to share what has been a gem for me. I hope it will be for you, too. Please, really think about this:
A rejection is simply an invitation to submit elsewhere.
Somewhere else with someone else who is a better fit, who shares your vision, and believes in it. The right somewhere and someone else for you.
Lastly, remember what they say about invitations. They’re always full of possibilities.
The secret to tapping into possibilities is to just show up. So reject the rejection and accept the invitation. Show up, and tap into the possibilities.