This is what my idea of the Rejection Beast looks like. Sharp-clawed and powerful. Enigmatic, fearsome, yet oddly charismatic. Decorated with gold, and rather magnificent. This is the beast we encounter whenever we choose to live in the world instead of hide from it. The Rejection Beast, always slavering, loves to gamble with us. Sometimes we win and part ways with it, for a time. We always meet again, unless we give up completely. But we always imagine it’s out there, waiting to attack.
What if we’re wrong? What if the Rejection Beast is simply an ambassador? A glorified messenger that has only arrived to give us valuable information?
Last week I read an online essay by Amanda Graham that revolutionized my thoughts about rejection. In it, she says:
When someone rejects you, for whatever reason, it’s because you two aren’t a good fit—they just saw it first. Eventually, you would have seen it as well. The fact that they act on this early realization is actually a blessing, because they are saving both of you from wasting time.
Her story is about how she stayed in a job that turned out to be wrong for her for ten long years, until it finally dawned on her that the company didn’t actually want or appreciate her talents. It wasn’t that she wasn’t talented, but that she wasn’t right for them. And, in turn, they weren’t right for her either. The details of their unsuitableness for each other couldn’t be overcome, no matter how hard she tried.
A few days after I read Amanda’s story, I understood why it resonated so deeply in me. Years ago, when I worked at a sales promotion subsidiary of the Ginormous Beer Company, I started as a contract employee in the multi-media services department. It wasn’t a job I’d trained for, or went to college for. It was a coordinator’s job that didn’t really even require a college degree. It wasn’t satisfying, but it was fun and it paid well. I never saw myself making a career of it, but I had no idea what else I wanted to do. Still, I did want more responsibility, so when the company finally said that its contract employees needed to start looking for other work, or would lose their benefits if they stayed on, I didn’t panic. I waited and worked diligently. My patience paid off, and I was put on full time in another department. It was a lateral move, but at least I had benefits and the job gave me a bit more responsibility.
But, you know, I wasn’t great at it because it didn’t interest me all that much. As jobs up the ladder opened up, I applied. I didn’t get them. Somehow I think they knew my heart wasn’t in it. I liked the money and the benefits and the people. Sadly, the work bored me. I used their educational reimbursement funds to take writing classes at night. I met my future husband at a writers’ workshop that the company paid for me to attend.
In the end, the Ginormous Beer Company and I rejected each other after feeling “meh” about each other for several years. While I’m very grateful for the start and professional skills it gave me, we were never a good fit.
If working in an office job offered me an occasional opportunity to be burned by the Rejection Beast, becoming a writer landed me in the dragon’s fiery belly. A large part of a writer’s career is built on rejection. We imagine we are climbing on the scaly backs of Rejection Beasts as we try to break into higher levels of publishing, and reach more readers. But really, it is all a question of fit. Even an inexperienced writer’s work fits somewhere. There are writing groups and critique groups and friends and family who will appreciate it. Soon after, the writer can enter contests and send work to small magazines or online forums. There is always an audience–it just takes finding it. As the stakes get higher, the markets get bigger, there are more writers to compete with, and more variables come into play for both the writer and the people who can get the work into the right audience’s hands. But we’re all just trying to figure out where we fit.
Why does rejection feel so bad? Ego, of course. It’s tough to reimagine the Rejection Beast as the Rejection Ambassador. No one wants to hear that they aren’t a good fit when they really, really, really want to be a good fit. And I’m here to tell you that ego never completely disappears, but if you give it a better understanding of what it’s up against–an Ambassador instead of a slavering dragon–you may be able to more quickly soothe its bruised feelings and get back to work.
It’s a difficult concept–at least it is for me. But it also feels freeing in many ways. And when the good fit actually happens? Oh, that’s heaven, isn’t it?!
If you haven’t read Amanda Graham’s piece on rejection at Tiny Buddha, go read it right now.
May 14th Words
Journal: 360 words
Long fiction: 0 words
Short fiction: 2700 words
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 866 words