Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rejection: A Love Letter

A few years ago, when I was about to move from one state to another, I was talking with a moving company sales representative whose job it was to estimate the cost of transporting my household. We got to talking, and I asked how he'd ended up in that line of work. In the course of telling that story, he told another, about his first job in sales. The owner of the business had directed him to go home, stand in front of a mirror, and say "No" a hundred different ways.

When I laughed, he gave a demonstration:
Heck, no!
Are you crazy?
No way!
That's insane.
No can do.
Not on your life.
That's a negative.
That ain't happening.

He said it was the best career advice he'd ever gotten. How did it help him? He didn't say. I imagine it probably plucked some of the sting from the waspish word (in the immortal words of Henry Taylor). After all, a basic tenet of social psychology is that people tend to seek acceptance and avoid rejection. To be free of the need to avoid rejection means--to be free to take risks. And the bigger the risk, the bigger the payoff. Courting "no" allows for unexpected yeses.

When first I started submitting stories and poems to literary journals, I was felled by rejection as is a redwood by a chainsaw. Then I read an article in some writer's magazine about the rule of 12. The writer tracked all his submissions, and found that every piece he wrote ended up getting accepted, on average, the twelfth time out. I started tracking my rejections and found that my average was four times out the gate. (Maybe I chose less demanding markets. Certainly the markets counted on those who wrote for love, as the payment was frequently just a nice note from the editor, along with two complimentary copies of the journal.) Rejection lost its sting in that context. (Most of it. I still remember that one letter, in which an editor schooled me about the construction of plot: "A story has a beginning (sets the background), a middle (something happens) and an ending (the problem is solved)." I sure didn't like reading that letter at the time, but I think it's funny now.)

A story of mine was rejected recently. I didn't write it intentionally to take risks, nor to get rejected -- but I did take risks in the writing. Did the rejection bother me? Not at all. I can use the story elsewhere. And even if I couldn't--it was fun to write.

Let's say that I aspire to this degree of equanimity in every circumstance.


  1. Hey
    Rejection: A Love Letter
    This has brightened my day! Never have thought in that way before! I really appreciate you for posting such a nice and useful post.

  2. You are so welcome. Thanks for the comment!