Every person, at one time or another, deals with rejection. It might be from the attention of someone you’re attracted to or a job you want. Regardless of when or how it happens, it’s a fact of life. But rejection is especially likely to happen for those of us who are pursuing careers in the arts. Every aspect of what we create is literally being put on display for the critiques of the masses.
I remember being fresh out of undergrad and thinking about pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I spent months narrowing down my school choices, mostly selecting universities that provided tuition remission in the form of teaching assistantships. Then I spent weeks putting together my manuscripts and applications, gathering letters of recommendations, and fretting over what the outcome would be. Which schools would accept me? Would my boyfriend move with me to another part of the country?
A short while later, my application decisions began to arrive in the mail. Small letters. Single sheets of paper. Thank you so much, they all said, however… It’s always that bastard of a word that seems to knock you between the teeth. High application numbers and low spaces available. Apply again in the future. Etc. Etc. Out of ten schools I applied to, I was admitted to two, but those admittances came so late, I was surely on the second or third tier of considered applicants. And they certainly didn’t come with an offer of an assistantship that would defray the enormous cost of graduate education.
I felt incredibly dejected. Here was this thing I’d wanted so badly. Didn’t they understand that? Didn’t they see that I would be successful if only someone would give me a chance?
So. What did I do? I gave up.
I’m sure you were expecting something more motivational. More inspirational. But I literally gave up. I assumed that the rejections I received were enough to communicate to me that this dream I had was not going to happen, and I should move on to something else. I stopped attending the creative writing class I was taking in the evenings. I didn’t continue the young adult romance I was working on at the time. I usually don’t ever give up on anything. I’m a hard worker. I always push through. But for some reason, I decided back in early 2010 that if those schools didn’t want me, I didn’t want them either.
Ultimately, it all worked out for the best. I ended up pursuing a graduate degree in another field (higher education and student affairs) that did provide tuition remission, and also taught me exponentially more about myself than that MFA ever could have. It provided myself and my husband with the chance to live rent-free for years, then move abroad to New Zealand, then to Hawaii, where I ultimately made the choice to pursue writing romance full-time. I am living my dream because of the choices I’ve made along the way, even if I had a few bumps and hurdles and missed opportunities throughout the years.
But now that I’ve busted my ass for my writing career and I’ve turned it into something that I do full-time, I can’t help but wonder… what if? It’s the question so many people ask, but I feel like it has serious implications for my life, especially considering the fact that I literally do exactly what I’d wanted to do back then. What if I’d accepted one of those admittances, late notification be damned? Would I have moved to Wilmington, North Carolina or Baltimore, Maryland? Could I have cultivated the career I have now even earlier if I’d not given up so quickly when faced with my first rejection?
Obviously, everything I’ve been through has led me to where I am today. Who knows what would have changed if I’d accepted one of those offers. And if given the choice today, I doubt I would change anything about the past. But that doesn’t mean I won’t handle things differently when facing rejection in the future. And I think my experiences have taught me three really important things that I want to share with you:
- One hundred NOs should not take away from the joy of one, single YES
Even if I made the same decision over again to not go to one of the two schools that accepted me, I wish I could have actually enjoyed my admittances. Just the act of putting myself out there is a step of bravery. And that – in and of itself – is enough to be proud of. Looking back, I wish I’d been capable of being proud of the YES that I did receive, rather than so focused on the other NOs.
- Your dream is bigger and more important than the rejections you face
Maybe getting my MFA wasn’t the right choice back then. But that didn’t mean I needed to give up writing altogether. I just… assumed that if I was rejected, that meant it wasn’t the dream for me. Oh how wrong I was! Creatives and artists of all kinds face rejection after rejection. Not everyone will make it into a career, but the ones that do are the ones that continued to believe their dream was more important than the rejections they received.
- Dwelling on what ifs will distract you from instead focusing on what’s next
I’ve often wondered what could have been different, and I can only imagine that many creatives who experience rejection spend time daydreaming about how things could have turned out. It doesn’t hurt to wonder, but it doesn’t help you either. Instead of focusing on the fact I could have possibly been pursuing my dream career years ago, I’ve been busting my ass to make my dream come true now. And that has made all the difference in the world.
You will face many rejections in your life, and whether or not you’re ultimately successful has little to do with who rejected you or what opportunity you ‘missed out on’, and has everything to do with how you pick yourself up, dust off the hurt, and continue chasing that dream.
I made the mistake of giving up once, ten years ago, and I will never make that mistake again. Instead, I will pursue my heart’s desire with every component of my mind, body, and soul, and I won’t let a single rejection get in the way of eventually reaching every goal I set my sights on. And I believe you’re capable of achieving the same 🙂
Now… dust yourself off, and go get that dream of yours!