As my fingers fumbled to tear open an envelope, I could feel my heart racing with anticipation. This will be good news, this will be… yet another rejection.
As with every rejection, I smoothed out the lines as best I could and pinned it on my wall. For every single one, I took it too personal since most were generic, this-work-is-not-for-us type letter. I’m not good enough.
I gave up on all of it. Only months before my eighteenth birthday, I had called quits on my creative life and resolved that I would go to college for the practical, which also did not work out. Dramatic, isn’t it? But to a teenager at the cusp of adulthood, my whole future was hung on the validation of being a “published” author, whatever that meant.
Years later when a professor would gently prod me to write again, I would make vague promises and dismiss his praises. As everyone discussed how inspired they were when they listened to my story, I would shake me head and shrug off their compliments. I felt unable to go through that experience again. Failure was painful, agonizing and shameful. Their pretty words could do nothing to make those feelings go away. No matter what they say, I’m not good enough.
My 17-year old self did not realize she was making an even bigger mistake on giving up completely: failure is normal. Experiencing failure is part of any creative life. Learning to not take rejection too personal is part of that life too. I gave up something I loved because I fell into the belief that I needed to be told I was good, and for others to agree that I was worthy of writing. The glory of having my name on paper and to say I was a “success” was what I had been focusing on instead of why I wrote in the first place.
Looking back, my teenage logic wasn’t completely sound but the fears are still very real and present in my mind: the uncertainty of the future sometimes twists and morphs our fears into monsters that seem far too unbearable for the average human. Failure to my younger self seemed almost fatal even and far too hard to deal with in a healthy way.
I recently told my students,
‘Si quieres hacer Dios reír, cuéntales tus planes.’
-If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
I teach Spanish now and I’m enjoying far more than I ever thought I would. I’m a mother now to a sassy one year old toddler and have found motherhood to be a complicated yet enlightening experience. The world seen through my students’ and through my daughter’s eyes reminds me of the beauty of the present and of those small one-on-one interactions that helps us grow as human beings. I am in a much better place with my art and my writing than I had been as an angst-y teenager. I’m good enough, no matter what my silly anxious filled brain tells me otherwise.
There was a lot of failure along the way here. Many tears, many existential crisis and constant reevaluation of my values. But my experiences the good, the bad, the painful have made me a more understanding teacher, a more patient mother, a more empathetic partner. I can’t discredit that ever, no matter how much it sucked at the time.
So for those who at the edge of entering adulthood, let me tell ya, it’s gonna suck a lot of the times. You’ll question yourself more than you ever thought you would. You’ll make really dumb mistakes and say some really dumb shit. But it’s all part of growing up. What’s important is recognizing the need for reflection and always finding ways to grow as people.
Connect with others, like really connect. You’ll be surprised with who you stay friends with 10, 15 years down the line and those friends will remind you of who you are especially on your worst days.
Enjoy the moment and take a break from your studies. Those moments when you’re splurging your measly paycheck on a concert or going on a random road trip… those are the moments you’ll remember the most, not how much you studied.
Don’t give up on your dreams and the things that you love. Don’t give up on you. Though I may have not published that novel but I have done a lot of writing since then. I’ve learned I really enjoy art and that has influenced my writing as well. I’ve learned to love the process of all of it, not the validation that I get from others. This has brought me much more happiness than chasing someone else’s approval.
And lastly, follow your gut. Everyone has all kinds of advice and stories and they are so eager to tell you how to do it the “right way.” There is no right way and being rich and famous isn’t going to make you happy either. So let go of your overbearing parents and go out and live. Fail and get up. Fail again, and own it every single time. Kick fear in the face and do it all over again. This is how you learn. This is life.