Five Tips for Overcoming Rejection
Rejection. It’s a horrible word. No one wants to experience it. But everyone does. Studies have shown that rejection can stimulate the same parts of the brain as physical pain. It can be devastating and change the direction of your life. Other times it can be the best thing that happens. You may not realize that until that rejection is in your rearview mirror.
As a writer, I’m quite familiar with rejection. In fact, that’s one of the first things I’ve learned about writing. There’s a lot of rejection. Even hobbyists who submit work only occasionally have experienced rejection. And we’re not the only ones.
Theodore Geisel, or Dr. Seuss as he’s known, had his first children’s book rejected by thirty publishers. Then he happened to run into a friend who was an editor at a publishing house, he sent the friend the manuscript and it was accepted, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was born.
JK Rowling lived on a welfare stipend and loans from friends as she wrote the beginning chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She secured agent representation fairly easily, but the novel was rejected by at least twelve publishers — possibly more. Would you admit you rejected that book?
Abraham Lincoln’s failures are legendary. He failed to win a congressional office when he was 34 and again when he was 36. In his forties, he lost a senatorial race. He failed to win the vice-presidential nomination at 47. Then at 52, was elected president. Clearly, he didn’t let those past failures stand in his way.
Michael Jordan was inarguably the best basketball player during his time with the NBA. He led his team to six championships. “He was the NBA Most Valuable Player five times and a 14-time All-Star. He was All-Star game MVP three times and a Defensive Player of the Year. He was all-defensive first team nine times and the NBA scoring leader 10 times.”
But when Jordan was fifteen years old, he failed to make his high school’s varsity basketball team. He was only 5’11 and at the time, could not dunk. He was so embarrassed at the time, he went home and cried. He never forgot what that rejection/failure felt like.
Each one of the examples I’ve listed have one thing in common — they didn’t let an early failure define them or stop them in their quest to reach their goals. That’s a key to finding success in anything you set out to do.
Don’t let initial failure define you. Consider other opportunities
I didn’t get into my first choice for college. I was accepted but I was wait-listed for housing, which meant I’d have to commute from my parent’s basement. That was not something I wanted to do. I wanted the full college experience. Plus, my first choice was a college where most of my friends were planning to attend.
I took the news hard, within a few days of getting rejected by my first pick, my second pick accepted me. The school not only accepted me but offered financial aid, and the admissions counselor wrote me a nice note wishing me good luck in my upcoming conference swim meet. My prospects had just gotten better. Had I only considered my first choice; I would have missed an awesome opportunity. Attending my second choice turned out to be the best choice for me.
The way we choose to look at rejection can mean the difference between living a fulfilling life and being miserable
I’ve written several novels that I’ve tried to get published. The first step has always been trying to find an agent as most publishers don’t accept unagented submissions. For one young adult novel, I sent out one hundred queries over the course of a year or two. Forty of them requested to read the full or partial manuscript.
My novel sits gathering dust as none of those forty agents offered to represent me. So, is that success or failure? Forty-percent of the literary agents I submitted to wanted to read more of my manuscript. I count that as a success. About ninety-five percent of those agents offered great feedback on my manuscript. I’ve learned so much from that experience. I’ve applied the knowledge that I now have to my current manuscript.
Wallow in it. Then stop
No one wants to experience rejection. But we all do. It’s okay to wallow in the pain of rejection. But only for a while. Do yourself a favor and set a deadline for yourself. Then begin to take the steps to move on. Get back to work. Set a new goal, or change your plan. But get back to work, you’ll be better for it.
Anytime you face rejection, you learn something. Take the lesson
I’m a firm believer that anytime you face rejection — that there’s a lesson to be learned. The rejections I received from the one hundred agents taught me a lot about my submissions. I was lucky that many of the agents I queried requested to read my manuscript. That meant that my query letter did its job. Since those agents also read my first few chapters and requested the full manuscript, that meant that my first few chapters held my reader’s interest.
These two things helped me when I looked back at my manuscript. I needed to spend more time on the later portion of my novel.
Most of the forty agents who read my manuscript gave me great feedback. I used that feedback as I worked on my manuscript. That was the first Young Adult novel that I wrote and writing it taught me what to focus on for that genre. I’ve since finished a second novel that I’m starting to query, and I think it’s a better book. But, it wouldn’t have become a better book if I’d hadn’t had that experience with the first one.
Sometimes it’s the journey that matters, not the outcome
The act of putting yourself or your work out in the world is success in its own right. People’s opinions are just that — opinions. Keep moving. Keep trying. Continue to set goals and make a plan to achieve them. If someone rejects your work or doesn’t hire you, know that you did your best and you took the steps to achieve your goals.
Anytime you put yourself out there, you run the risk of rejection. Do it anyway. That journey has the potential of teaching you things about yourself, your goals, and your life that you never expected. Go out there and get it, whatever that might be.