Writer's Workbook: Meditations on Rejection

June 10, 2015

It's okay, George McFly. We'll get through this together.

Q: What do a research professor, billionaire, folk singer, Roman emperor, and author have in common? 

A: They recently saved me from at least two pints of Ben & Jerry's and a day of moping.

Let me 'splain. In the past two weeks, one of my projects has received four rejections.  Four punches.  Jab, cross, hook, uppercut.

I'm writing this not to brag or to complain, but to share.  Rejection is a lonely experience, no matter how you spin it. Who wants to admit being rejected? The world loves winners, underdogs who come out on top, people who once lived in little hovels and now run around in Scottish castles eating dinosaur eggs sprinkled with diamonds.  The world doesn't love rejects.

There are tons of online resources that help aspiring writers cope with rejection.  These pieces include things like statistics and tips on how to embrace your inner ninja.  I'm all for that, but this time around, I needed something more...soothing.  Thus, the five quotes below.  Whatever kind of rejection you're dealing with, I hope these ideas help you as they helped me.

1. Stay vulnerable.

Researcher Brene Brown on vulnerability.  Watch her TED talk here
[The people with a strong sense of self-worth] fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating...They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

2. Understand that they're not always right.

Billionaire tech investor Chris Sacca on the whales that got away.  Listen to his interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast here.
One of my constant recurring nightmares is about the stuff I passed on. So the Dropbox guys, I met those guys very early on...I got an early look.  I pulled those guys aside. I said, "Hey, look, at Google, we're using a version of this called Platypus, which became Google Drive. They're going to crush you guys. You should probably find another product to pivot to." That probably cost me hundreds of millions of dollars.  When I see Drew, the CEO of Dropbox, I bring it up before he can.  I get it out there right away...Nick Woodman from GoPro came to Google...I was like, we'd be foolish to do this deal. How's this guy from Santa Cruz going to compete with all these Asians at building hardware? You know, you can't hold a candle to the Taiwanese and Koreans. I was like, "No dice, man.  Let this guy go." And I think I introduced him to somebody at YouTube just as a consolation. I saw that dude this winter skiing. He's worth like, three or four billion dollars now and he didn't forget that meeting...And then the Snapchat guys. I gave a talk in L.A. and they came up to me, I'd never met them before, they came up after the talk and said, "We're big fans. We'd really like to work with you."  And I was like, "Eh, sure. I know you're up to something cool, I admire it." I took like eight weeks to set up the meeting and by then, the Benchmark guys had done that deal. Oh, my God, I can't imagine how much money we've left on the money as a result of that. 

3. Embrace rejection.  Reject contentment.

Folk singer Todd Snider on humiliation.  His book is called I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like.  Buy it here. It's great.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enticed by the idea of playing music in order to get wasted, have a cool scarf, and have chicks tell me I was deep, even if I wasn't. But the thing I was wanting to be, which was what you might call a lifer, wasn't going to be about coming up with a cute melody once. It was going to be about daring to be humiliated, over and over again. And when your heart finally starts to heal up, that's when you're in trouble. Contentment, not rejection, is the enemy.

4. Stop whining.   

Essayist and blogger known as Philosophy Bro.  This is his interpretation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, which you can read here.
Look, there’s a lot of unavoidable bullshit out there. Tons of it, in fact, and there is precisely nothing you can do about it. The sooner you accept that, the better your life will be; rather than bitching and complaining, learn to deal with it. Or, of course, you could keep whining like a little bitch; sure, maybe that’ll fix everything.

5. Never give up. 

Author Warren Adler.  You can read his piece on rejection here.
Never give up. Never, never, never...To do this requires a monumental ego, total self-confidence in your talent, and an unshakeable belief that you have been anointed with the right stuff. You will require obsessive focus, singleness of purpose, a draconian ruthlessness and total devotion to a belief in your artistic ability. Fancy words, I know, but with the absence of luck, you will need these attributes to sustain you through the process...What this means for the true novelist is that he or she must continue to soldier on, keep writing, keep trying, taking the increasingly painful hits of rejection after rejection until, well, until someone out there catches on…or doesn’t. We are all waiting for Godot. Sometimes he comes.