Thursday, December 20, 2007

Recovering from Rejection

If you're running any kind of successful business at all, you're getting rejections. Because you're trying.

Still, sometimes nothing is harder to stomach than that most recent 'not at this time,' or simple silence. The obvious question--Why didn't they like it?--can quickly spin into How will I be able to pay my bills next month? (Because despite my general financial abundance, in my mind I'm always one check away from a spot in a homeless shelter.) Or it can easily become, This client has clearly seen into my soul and knows it's tarnished. (Because I think all creative people harbor some fear that we are can't hack it.)

Recently I got a one-two punch of rejections: one of a query and one with constructive criticism of a recent assignment. Both came from clients I love and with whom I have a steady, friendly relationship. Still, those emails bruised.

After my night of self-pity in front of some god-awful reality show, I knew that letting myself stay in that place will debilitate me.

So how to cope?

Well, one way is to consider the yogic concept of aparigraha--that is, nongrasping. In a past issue of Yoga Journal, Sally Kempton retells Ram Das's great story about this concept:

[Das] was telling a famous anecdote about the way you catch a monkey in India. You drop a handful of nuts into a jar with a small opening, he explained. The monkey puts his hand into the jar, grabs the nuts, and then finds that he can't get his fist out through the opening. If the monkey would just let go of the nuts, he could escape. But he won't.

Attachment leads to suffering, Ram Dass concluded. It's as simple as that: Detachment leads to freedom.

So the logical conclusion would be to separate the facts in those emails from those other bigger fears:

My financial serenity doesn't actually depend on that one assignment. That's what my business plan is for.

And one email from a client with constructive criticism of one story doesn't mean I can't hack this job. Those bigger fears, about financial security, talent and self-confidence are always there because they belong to me. They'll grasp onto any transient event to make themselves known to me--and to make me suffer.

My job is to pry their grubby little fingers off my worry-sick heart.

Simple clarity gets me half-way there, if I can let it in. The pry bar I use to separate fact from fear is meditation, which calms the mind, and deep breathing exercises that soothe the nervous system. My favorite goes this way:

Sit upright in a chair, bed, etc., and breath in deeply through your nose. Fill your chest with air.
At the top of the inhale, pause for three seconds.
Exhale deeply through your mouth. Try to make your exhale longer than your inhale.
At the bottom of the exhale, pause for three seconds.
Repeat.

Then I write about those fears. I talk to other business owners about it and remind myself that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

The next thing, always, is to take action.

I can't use this rejection, real or imagined, to opt out of my business plan, which calls for three queries a week. So I send my third for the week and let the rest go.

Now that we've detached from the crazy associations between innocuous rejections and the big monkeys of fear and self-doubt, I think it's time to tackle that first question again:

Why didn't they like it?

For my own sanity and serenity, I need to make an honest appraisal of why my marketing effort didn't fly. Has the publication done something similar recently? Is it not timely enough? Does it need to be tweaked or finessed somehow?

Mostly, the reasons queries sell are mysterious to me. I often think that the sun has to be aligned with the stars just so, and the light has to be hitting the editor at just the right time, after just the right amount of coffee, for a query to sell. So, who knows? Really, unless the editor tells you, it's best not to assume it's you.

The key here is to ask yourself a different question: What can I learn from this situation?

And then move on.

And enjoy your holiday.

1 comment:

kristen said...

I wrote an entire chapter in my book about Creative Self-Employment on this very topic. I used to let rejection wash over me--now if I get rejected it's more of, "Ok, I'll get there. I've got to be out there and I am."