When I was a senior in high school and applying for colleges, I applied at Texas A&M University. I didn’t really want to go there, but I knew it was a good school and I should apply because, well, everyone in Texas applies at either A&M or the University of Texas.
While I was waiting for A&M to respond, I found out I was accepted into the school I actually wanted to go to and began the enrollment process there.
I had almost forgotten about A&M when their letter came in the mail.
I read it and was shocked to find out I had been “waitlisted.” I ran to my room and cried.
I did not handle rejection well back then, not even from a school I didn’t want to go to in the first place.
In my mid-twenties, after a lot more rejections from various things and people, I began to understand that rejection was so hard for me because it was so personal. Not getting into a certain school meant I wasn’t smart. Not getting chosen for the choir solo meant I was a bad singer. Getting dumped meant I was unlovable.
If you rejected me, I rejected me too. Rejection threatened my identity.
I think the only way to get “better” at handling rejection, which will and should always cause some disappointment, is to better understand who you are.
Photo Credit: Christopher Michel, Creative Commons
For me, as a Christian, who I am is laid out clearly in the Bible. I am an adopted child of God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:15). It’s a pretty rock solid identity. Later on in Romans 8, Paul talks about how nothing can change our status as adopted children of God—no height, no depth, nothing.
That identity is key when it comes to rejection because that identity is ultimate, complete, unconditional acceptance.
And when we believe we are unconditionally accepted by God, rejection can no longer tell us we’re not accepted.
It’s a lie, and we know it.
I recently got rejected by a publication I wanted to write for.
They said, “thanks but no thanks.” I was disappointed. I had worked really hard on the piece I sent them.
I was helping set up for a friend’s rehearsal dinner when I read the rejection email, so I stepped into the bathroom for a minute.
I felt myself starting to spiral and think things like, “I am a bad writer because these people told me no.” Then, I remembered that rejection is a big part of the process for writers, and I told myself that just because they don’t want this piece doesn’t mean I am a terrible writer and should quit my job.
I was being a reasonable adult about things.
I was so proud of myself. And it was nothing I had done that made me act so mature.
I simply have a better grasp these days of who I am and whose I am.
After a couple of minutes, I came out of the bathroom and I was ok. It felt like I had this invisible shield of protection around me that rejection couldn’t get through.
This is what happens when we begin to understand and believe in who we are. Rather than our identity being this unstable, shake-able thing, easily tossed about by the opinions of others, it becomes a protective shield, something we can count on to always be the same and to always protect us.
Is it okay if I paste this here? You know, for posterity, as if it were taped to my high school locker?
Dear Melissa Uchiyama,
Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although I don’t find your essay right for our needs, I’m grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.
Daniel Jones, Modern Love editor
It’s here, proof that I jumped into my own deep end, that I know how to press “send”.
This is the form rejection letter I receive this morning from my phone, while climbing out of bed. It’s from the eminent Daniel Jones of The New York Times’ Modern Love section. It is for writers, an, if not the, esteemed pinnacle of publications. More than 47 book deals have transpired because of the work of these writers and the discoveries made by agents and publishers. Whoosh, they just get picked-up. One story even became a TV show, another, a musical. Modern Love is the magic promise that a simple submission of 1700 words, max, could lead to supermodel-dom of the writing kind. A whoosh and a sparkle and voila. Arrival. You could suddenly be Kate Moss to the adjective. Lauren Hudson to a story’s sense of place. All it would take is “Yes, we received your email and we love it.”
I’m always the positive type. I figure that despite all of the warnings, while the editor receives over 5K submissions, yearly, giving my story less than a 1% chance of being picked, I tend to figure “I have it in the bag”. Because maybe I have yards of ego, deep wells of positivity, or just a simple hope. I’m the one, come most birthdays, who walks into my home fully expecting, bracing for everyone to jump up from behind couches and curtains yelling “Surprise!” I take hopes and cast them out like they’ll really happen. I can tend to feel disappointed. Maybe this is “Modern Love”, too, the constantly re-evaluating our expectations and seeing the real life emerge, instead.
I guess what also has me pouting is this: my real life Modern Love story seems rife with all the makings of a “picked for TV drama”, certainly to me. (And I say this with love!) We’ve got conflict, voice peeping up through rising action, all of the sunset talk of South Florida, our wedding, and then packing for a life in Tokyo. A bouquet and tears. A coming and a going, all noted with such attention to detail, I perhaps could have become a dentist with the same amount of craft and fervor. Or at least a functioning receptionist with whiter teeth.
Maybe I just want to tell my story and share our complex, but exuberant marriage. Maybe I want to shine a bright bulb on a certain issue. It isn’t just about ego, because heaven knows, most writers take a beating in the comments section. I want the chance to share.
This is a disappointment, that the prospect of winning or landing a spot in this column could make all of the difficulties of my Modern Love seem even more “worth it”, using some form of tangible, writer-speak. Like monetizing past pain. Like an actual silver lining one can frame and flaunt on their resume, in gold calligraphy pen. A ladeling of actual gold, plunk, on top of my story. Certainly, such acceptance would validate actual writing skills and boost me to a higher rung.
Many active writers suggest that we all immediately have that backup plan, the outbox for our next submission try. Hmm, but it’s already seen several rejection letters…
This one, The Times, was so built up that the silly, immature part of me actually thinks the editor may actually write back in five minutes to say, “Wait! How did I let this one slip by?” I wanted this editor to fall hook, line, and sinker, with my words. I wanted to be captured by The New York Times, clinking Pinot Noir with husband, editor, and readers, worldwide. We’d collectively swirl the glass, inhale, and enjoy every note. All because I tried.
It’s pretty easy to get hooked to those affirmations, perhaps forgetting the jewel that is “writing for the sake of writing”. Sometimes the desire to be published is as strong as my impulse for sugar, or coffee, or an “I love you.” The habits of any person, any artist, mother, architect, gardener, you name it, must be honed, edited, even cut off if there is to be growth. It’s always a coming back to the process, not just some trophy, but an inner resolve at the drafting table. The work of editing and mining and bringing up the feelings and details that spawn a book. I guess I do want it all…the inner and the outer things coming together. I believe it’s called glory. And persistence.
Don’t know where I’ll go next with this piece, but to live the life we have, that’s the thing. To spin gold, to squeeze those lemons, to take joy in the best gifts we’ve been given, that’s what I’m up to and that’s what I’ll write, acceptance or not.