For us sensitive types, rejection feels like someone slamming the door on our fingers. It hurts so badly that we wallow in shame and sometimes the guilt that comes when we feel like we made sacrifices for no good reason. As a writer (and as a human being), I have experienced the worst kinds of rejection–the kind that contains no constructive criticism and is so vague that it leaves too much room for interpretation. This type of criticism is death to the soul (or so it seems).
During the past week, despite kind comments people have left on my YouTube videos and Facebook posts, I received two rejections laced with shame. I felt like authority figures were sending poison arrows at me and those arrows were penetrating my skin leading to the slow death of my creative spirit. These situations reminded me too much of scathing criticism I experienced as an innocent child. It’s that message of “How dare you to think that you are better than anyone else. Or how dare you express yourself creatively when we don’t condone your type of creative talent.”
So the first rejection I experience was the good folks at YouTube slapping an age restriction on one of my astrology videos. The shaming part came with a description of why a viewer flagged my video. Where there is absolutely no violence or pornography or sex in my astrology video. I produced the video to educate my subscribers (whatever their age), to interpret a particular moon transit. True, I included images of the painting of Venus di Milo in my video–which shows a nude Venus rising from the ocean with men dancing around her. This image comes from a Classic Greek myth and anyone taking an ancient art history class will view this photo as art.
Still, YouTube thought it was in their best interest to shame me even though that particular video received over 35,000 visits–people of which saw ads on YouTube and probably purchased a product or service based on the ads they saw. And the message YouTube gave me was to make sure that my videos never become too visible or people will attack me for showing up authentically in the world. I’m expected to live my life by someone’s moral standards based on religions I don’t practice and never will practice.
The second rejection I experienced was from the Artist Trust out of Seattle. Last year I applied for a storytelling grant. When I received the rejection letter and announcement of the winner in January, there was a passage in the rejection letter that said I could request notes for my submission. So, I requested the notes and waited several months to find out that my application wasn’t worthy of notes or suggestions because two of the three judges decided that my writing wasn’t viable to ever producing an income for me.
Now, I could make that mean that I’m an unworthy person and that I suck as a writer. But I’m not going to do that. I have worked as a freelance journalist since the age of 22 and I have earned money as a writer in many respects. The writing sample I sent to the Artist’s Trust was a passage from a memoir I wrote about living in between homes for several months due to a housing crisis. Or perhaps, I had sent a writing sample from a novel that started out with a short story that was almost published by the Missouri Review several years ago. I don’t remember what I had sent.
But I know this. I’m not an unsuccessful writer even if I have not graduated with an MFA from any prestigious school or because I haven’t studied with a famous person. I don’t require permission from the Artist’s Trust judges to write or to succeed as a writer. And when we feel like getting revenge, the best revenge to rejection is to keep on plugging away until we experience glorious success.
Rejection from publishers, editors, agents or other writers does not mean we suck as people. It does not mean we should throw in the towel to make them feel better. It does not mean that we have to shove ourselves into a square hole when we are a round peg. It does not mean we have to accept snobby behavior from others who believe that they are the authorities of our career or life path. It just means we have yet to find our tribe.
Most of the time other people’s rejection is their problem. Sometimes rejection happens because our work is premature and needs work. Sometimes rejection happens because those rejecting us feel overwhelmed with entries, applications, and proposals. And sometimes rejection happens because we’re from outside their circle of colleagues and friends. And sometimes rejection happens by people who enjoy shaming others because they are narcissistic. We’ll never know. And if the judges can’t give us criteria for us to improve our work, then their rejection is worthless. Let us reject their rejection of us.