A few days ago, I was rejected for something I’d applied and hoped for. Not only did I receive a resounding No, but someone who I am certain is less competent (and less fun) than I received a Yes, and I even by chance overheard her expressing her delight at her success. I thought I was a shoe-in, which was maybe my first mistake. As it also happens, we were at the time in a roomful of people perhaps two handfuls of whom had issued me rejections at one time or another. The inner drums began to beat: are they snickering at me? Do they talk amongst themselves about what a loser they think I am? What if, come January, they laugh at, or hate, my paintings?
I’ve had two other humiliating rejections recently, and I see the perpetrators with some frequency. One, whom I barely know, I subsequently concluded was a mean, bitter person unqualified to do her job, and I employed her as a repository of my frustration, fear, doubt, and disappointment. So that was a little obvious, a tiny indicator that I needed to take a closer look. I did some Work on this; it turned out it wasn’t actually her fault. For a moment, though, I thought she was responsible for my happiness.
These recent rejections are, I’ve concluded, not so much negations as lampposts, casting tiny shafts of light on the path I didn’t see, which is the path of my own vision for myself. For several decades I have turned to other people (and non-people) to validate me and my worth, and this week’s rejection seems to be another sign — subtle, written in some odd, blurred script I don’t recognize at first — saying, OK, get back to work. That was a compelling opportunity, sure, but would it really have stretched you in the right ways? Let’s get back to your vision. Let’s question your assumptions about what’s feasible, about the limits of opportunity, and then let’s get back to work.
Before I do, though — for relief and insight — I turn to a few angels and advisors, because I am no expert on dealing with Rejection: Anne Lamott, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, and Charlotte Joko Beck came first to mind.
Anne Lamott talks about jealousy, and though I’m not sure that Rejection and Jealousy are the same in this instance, I know they often hold hands. She talks about how degrading jealousy and competitiveness can be, particularly when it’s friends who are successful. In my case, though, it’s more humiliation — and then of course anticipated rejections, because I am preparing in this project to expose my effort, my inner thoughts and vision. Perhaps the answer’s to care for the vision, or the dream, as softly and tenderly as possible.
from My Modern Met
She does talk about “Radio Station KFKD”, which I prefer to call The Voice, who jumps in at any opening to present a list to me of all the mistakes I’ve made today and, while we’re at it, over my entire lifetime, and reasons I shouldn’t even bother because I’ll never succeed anyway. She suggests rituals, and breathing, and again that gentleness.
Who am I in relation to this problem? I might ask, following Charlotte Joko Beck. And what is the direct experience of the scenery of my life at this moment? “We never grow by dreaming about a future wonderful state or by remembering past feats. We grow by being where we are and experiencing what our life is right now.”
Steven Pressfield suggests, “When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.”
I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.
He also says that Resistance’ll happily use fear of rejection to paralyze us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation. He reminds me that I can’t let external criticism fortify my inner foe, Resistance, who’s strong enough as it is.
Back to work. A breath. The physical sensation, in the present. And then back to work.