One of the sad truths life teaches is that we all get rejected sometimes. Actually, lots of times. Maybe even most times. But rejection doesn’t mean failure. Far from it.
A friend and former colleague of mine recently met Kate DiCamillo, author Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Desperaux, and multiple other hugely successful, award-winning books. According to Ms. DiCamillo, she received 473 rejection letters before breaking through (but who’s counting, right?). J.K. Rowling was famously turned down by nearly every publisher in England when she pitched them a book about a pre-teen, would-be wizard (who would publish such a thing, right?) And Stephen King tells the story of papering his walls with rejection slips before his wife, Tabitha, fished a story he had started out of the trash and told him, “Keep going. You’re onto something.” The story was about a telekinetic teen named “Carrie.”
Between them, these three authors have since sold a bajillion dollars worth of books (by my scientific-enough-for-this-purpose estimate). And their stories of rejection are by no means unique, either within the publishing world or outside it. In fact, most of us get rejected over and over again, in a wide variety of contexts, throughout our lives.
- We get rejected by admissions officers and hiring managers and Instagram followers (not necessarily in that order).
- We get rejected by people we’d like to go out with, or people we’d like to look up to.
- We get rejected by people who don’t like our ideas and by people who don’t share our values.
- We get rejected by people who think they already know it all or who can’t find the time or the patience to pay attention.
- We get rejected by people who aren’t buying what we’re selling, either literally or figuratively, even though we know they really should be.
- We get rejected by people who have power but hardly a clue, and by others who ought to know better.
Really, there are only a couple of safe zones where we don’t face rejection regularly: 1) inside a small circle of family and friends who support us no matter what we do; and 2) when what we’re doing, at work or elsewhere, is basically just repeating what’s already been done repeatedly.
What’s important to remember is that you can’t live a full life—a life worthy of your remarkable talent, creativity, and insights—without going outside these safe zones. You have to be brave enough and bold enough to risk rejection. And you have to be tough enough to deal with it when it inevitably comes your way.
What’s also important to remember is that the people who wind up rejecting you are a lot like the publishers mentioned above—the ones who said “no” to Because of Winn Dixie, Harry Potter, and Stephen King. They don’t know you anywhere near well enough to actually be rejecting you. What they’re rejecting is just a potential they can’t yet envision, an approach and a style and a story they’ve yet to imagine, a future they don’t see coming—in part because they’re trapped within the narrow confines of what already feels safe to them.
Being trapped like this doesn’t mean they’re bad; it just means they’re fallible humans like the rest of us. Of course, it also means that you shouldn’t worry too much about their rejections. If you don’t fit within the confines of what they currently think they need, then most likely there’s a problem with the confines, the timing, and/or their thinking.
I know this because I know you better than they do. I’ve seen the story you’re writing up close and personal, and I know its full potential.
So expect to get rejected sometimes. And expect it to sting (it always does).
But ultimately, follow the sage advice of Tabitha King:
Keep going. You’re onto something.