I’m trying to remember the first time I really experienced rejection. I want it to be some National Spelling Bee story where I missed the silent ‘c’ in ‘abscess’ and was eliminated in the final round. I imagine myself in a light brown folding chair, plaid skirt and starched white school shirt, a smile plastered on my face as tears gather in my eyes as I watch Timothy Wilcott spell the word correctly and take the gold.
But no…as with most heterosexual women, the first memory to emerge is one where I was rejected by a boy. I was a 6th or 7th grader, chubby, with glasses, and from what I remember he was an 8th grader, statuesque, and chocolate — a mini Idris Elba if you will. My memory may be a bit off…
When I finally got the nerve to send one of my friends over to tell him I was feeling him (an 90’s version of sliding in the DMs), she came back with his perfunctory ‘nah’ firmly places in her prepubescent hand. I’m sure she tried to soften the blow (Love you Takia!) but it was still a hot NO that I felt fully. I considered dropping out of middle school and assuming a new identify but my parents weren’t willing to invest in my dream so I went back the next day, and every day after that and faced that rejection. Well, until I started crushing on someone else and completely forgot about him.
It was right around this time that I was watching Oprah with my mother one afternoon and Oprah spoke about how she was fired from her first job as a new anchor. Now, this is OPRAH y’all. The epitome of Black Female Success. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could look at her, in all her Oprahosity, and say “We’re good over here, fam.” Umm, What?!?
My little brain became obsessed with the origin stories of successful people and it has not stopped since. In stories of successful people, 99% of them reflect on instances where they were dismissed, fired, overlooked, or failed completely. Here are a few of my faves.
It brings to light a really important point. While success may be the mountain top, the journey to it often resembles the slums. Yeah, some people get discovered on a whim, but most people have to fight for their spot. They have to fight to experience success and fight even harder to keep it.
This all helped me to recognize rejection for what it really is: an opportunity. It’s not a hard stop. It’s not a period. It’s an question mark. It’s something that must be answered and you alone determine how you’re going to answer it.
Rejection presents a valuable chance for us to determine whether we will perfect or pivot. I’m not a fan of people who act like church mothers and say “those people must have been a fool for rejecting you!”. No. Sometimes you are rejected because you didn’t meet or exceed the standard. Sometimes you weren’t good enough in that moment. But not being good enough in the moment is just information. You can either use that information to perfect what you’re doing or decide to pivot.
If you’re going to perfect your craft or skill then you need to ask for feedback from that rejection. Respectfully, ask for places where you can improve. If I was brave enough, back in 6th grade, I would have probably benefitted from asking Mr. Baby Elba out myself instead of sending my friend. I also probably should have spoken to him at least once before I shot my shot. I mean, he didn’t even know I existed before I was all like LETS BE BOO’s!!!
I could have perfected my preteen swag. I still may have just not been his type but at least I’d brought my full self to the project, you know? If you are not willing to put in the work to perfect the craft and try again, if that just seems like an insurmountable task and you are just NOT with it, then maybe you will decide to pivot.
Try something new! Maybe there was some aspect of the thing you tried that you liked but you didn’t enjoy the whole thing and that’s why the rejection occurred. An example, some writers only write short stories. When they try to write a full length novel they either can’t finish it or it is not as clean and impactful as they’d like. This doesn’t mean they are terrible writers and should stop all together. No, they just need to focus on what brings them joy and what they are actually good at. Stick with short stories! You don’t have to be good at ALL types of writing to be a good writer. Pivot and focus on what you can do well and what you actually enjoy.
Now hear me clearly. I am not saying that rejection doesn’t hurt and that it will not leave you with scars or trepidation. It will hurt. It’s. Going. To. Hurt. When I got my first query rejection I didn’t write for weeks. It’s not about getting rid of or avoiding the hurt. It’s more about getting to a place where rejection doesn’t cripple you. To where you are not incapacitated when things don’t turn out the way you hoped. The goal is to become a person that can pull necessary information from each rejection and use it to hone and fuel your future. Mkay?
Now, get out there slugger and start getting hurt in the best way.
Love people learning from failure as much as I do? Check out this podcast from Gimlet that I’m obsessed with called “Without Fail”: