At the end of 2013 I interviewed for a job I wanted very badly. The job was an editorial position at a well-known media company, and I’d written a memo for it, full of ideas and the names of writers whose voices I thought the whole world should celebrate. I had friends read the memo, other writers and editors. They all stopped midway through to tell me about what they wanted to write for me, what they already envisioned pitching me, how excited the memo made them about working with me. Gently, I’d ask them to finish reading, to make sure it was okay to send — and then we could be hopeful. Maybe even excited.
I didn’t get the job.
The rejection came in an email. It was professional and nice. I read it only a few times, more than I wish I had but not as many as I’ve read other rejections. I tried to think whether a phone call would have made it sting more or less, would have made me feel like more or less of a contender. I kept telling myself I was, that they’d considered me for real. Someone from out of town had interviewed me. But I wasn’t sure whether it mattered, at least not at that moment when I felt so utterly like a loser.
I live in a place where the act of failing is elevated to a higher calling. Failure, they say, is as important as success. Maybe more so.
It’s a nice idea. You can learn a lot from failing. But I don’t entirely buy it. Because you can learn a lot from anything, if you’re paying attention. Because you can learn a lot from succeeding, too. And because it’s much easier to think losing is positive when you have victories to carry you onward.
People like to say that if something didn’t work out, it probably wasn’t the right thing for you. It wasn’t meant to be. It’s comforting, and in a way I suppose it can be true. At least, it’s true in the sense that this is what certain types of truth are: Not some tangible mass floating above us, from which we pinch off little bits, but a belief that we set our minds to and agree upon. Do you see how it wasn’t right? Good, because now you’re free to pursue that which is.
The problem with rejection is that it hits at the nexus of everything you try to keep tightly corralled and often very hidden. This is decidedly so when it’s not an everyday rejection but something you want with all your heart.
There was something about this job that called to me on a very deep level. The position seemed perfect for me. The work was what I wanted to be doing. The company was full of people who seemed excited about their work but also about the colleagues they worked with. They boosted one another, looked out for each other. From afar it seemed like my secret dream: do work I love with good people in a place where I might belong.
Wanting these things, putting yourself at risk of rejection, and sharing your enthusiasm and hopes with friends are deeply vulnerable acts. We’re used to this in romance, but how well do we acknowledge it in friendship, in work, in anything besides love? We do not know how to handle very many vulnerabilities, in ourselves or in others. When we see them or feel them, it’s easier to try and back away.
The nature of my rejection — after all, I had told many friends about my excitement, and they all saw my defeat — was mortifying. I didn’t know which was worse, not getting the job or feeling embarrassed that people I knew and respected had to see me fail. Victory is public. Our rejections and failures are deeply private.
When I sat down with my therapist after I didn’t get the job, I told her of my wild plans for the new year, my I’ll-show-them plans to write and publish as much as possible. She looked at me thoughtfully. “That’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “Why not also write because you love it?”
I laughed at this, because at the time I didn’t understand the true meaning. I promised her I would anyway. On the first day of 2014, which happened to be a Wednesday, I started writing.
What I failed to understand was what it meant to do something because you love it. Not because you think it will get you something, because you think it will allow you to fit in, or because you want success and you’re pretty sure that’s how you’ll find it. Simply for love, simply because you would no matter what.
This is what happens when you take your rejection and you make it public. This is a year of Wednesdays.