“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath
It can be a difficult thing to know when you should quit or even if you should quit. The adage about “if you don’t succeed, try, try again” is encouraging the first five goes but after that, when does it cease to become a matter of perseverance and start to look like dumb hubris? At some point, when we’ve been labouring at a stubborn thing for a while, I think each of us has taken a moment where we wonder, “Is the Universe/the gods/God trying to tell me something here? Am I just not taking the hint?”
It can be about auditions, about changing cities, about a close relationship, about work. At some point, you wonder if you need to cut your losses and give up a dream because you’ve been hitting a wall, you’ve been falling over, you’ve been rejected constantly with no end in sight. I’d recently reached such a crossroad where I realised I had to make a difficult decision: do I stick with the environment I’ve always known, the people I love but who are now rejecting the changes I represent, or do I pursue a new direction and leave behind the safety I’ve grown up with to jump into the unknown? I jumped, but not without agonising over my decision to stop persevering. In order to get out of my comfort zone and press onward, I had to choose to give up on others as a result. That can be a hard thing to come to terms with about yourself.
“Are you going to succeed with that first book? Some people do. I didn’t.” — James Patterson
But then I read about the artists, the writers who put themselves out there and push on. JK Rowlings was turned down by 12 publishers with her little Harry Potter idea. A local Canberra romance writer I met was turned down 17 times before her book series got picked up. Sylvia Plath’s arguably greatest and oft-quoted work, The Bell Jar, only received a Pulitzer posthumously. “The worthiest poets have remained uncrowned till death has bleached their foreheads to the bone,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote. It’s depressing as heck that sometimes, true success can only be realised long after our work is done. And sometimes, all we will know of our endeavour is the rejection, not the accolade. What a bummer.
I don’t know if this article is going to clarify anything for you, for rejection can be both the impetus for change and the very obstacles to stubbornly stomp on until you can meet with success. Discernment, as always, is crucial in all things. But rejection is a natural inevitability of being alive and often the show-stopper for us to pause and reflect. What happens next, how we handle the lessons they deal us, is where growth comes from. The true tragedy is in remaining so cocooned, nothing can touch us. No rejection, but certainly no change can come from closing ourselves off to potential pain.
Whatever you do with the rejections you receive this week, this month, this hour, may you remember that you’re already a winner because you’re trying.