No Thanks

If there’s one thing I ought to be used to by now, it’s rejection.  For years I worked as a free-lance writer, placing some articles in magazines and newspapers, and even selling a children’s book.  But for every acceptance, I received at least twenty rejections. Eventually I acquired a whole file drawer just bursting with rejection letters.  A few of them were personal (which I counted as a small victory), but the majority were simply the form letters that publishers sent out to every writer who sent them a manuscript or proposal that they didn’t want.

And the rejections weren’t limited to my writing career.  When I was fresh out of college with an English degree, I applied to any job that was even remotely related to writing.  In return, I got a few interviews, a ton of rejection letters and zero job offers.  Eventually, I was so desperate that I ended up working as a secretary for a small seminary.  There’s nothing wrong with being a secretary….it’s an important job….but it wasn’t at all what I wanted to be doing.

One way or another, rejection and I are very well acquainted.  So it surprises me how much rejection can still hurt, all these years later.  You’d think I would have developed an immunity to it somewhere along the line, but I haven’t.  It still stings, especially when it feels personal.  Which tells me that I am still putting far too much value on what other people think of me, and not nearly enough on what I think of myself.

I know it’s only natural to feel hurt by rejection.  It’s hard when an old friend gradually becomes too busy to get together, or when someone I’ve just met at a party immediately looks over my shoulder for someone more interesting.  I once went to a church dinner by myself, and I put my plate of food down at a table where four other people were sitting and then went to get a drink.  When I returned with my glass of water, all four of them had moved to a different table.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sting.

The trick, I think, is to remember that I have no control over how other people are going to react to me, and to remember that often their reaction has nothing to do with me at all.  Maybe my old friend really was much busier than usual.  And maybe the person looking over my shoulder at a party is searching for someone she’s supposed to be meeting.  And as rude as their behavior was, maybe the people I sat down with at the church dinner were trying to save seats for the rest of their family and just didn’t know how to tell me that when I approached their table.

But even when someone is actually rejecting me, I need to remember that their opinion of me is just that:  their opinion.  And that while it feels good to have others appreciate and validate us, what ultimately matters is that we recognize our own self-worth and not wait for others to acknowledge it for us.

As a writer, I survived all those rejection letters by reminding myself of the simple truth that just because a publisher didn’t want my manuscript didn’t actually mean that my manuscript had no value.  It just meant that particular publisher didn’t think it could make a profit selling my book.  So I kept writing, and I kept sending out my manuscripts and queries, and I did make some sales.  I was very intentional about believing in the value of what I had written.  And sometimes I need to work just as hard at believing in the value of me.

Quitting Time

Sometimes I just don’t know when to quit.  Maybe I read “The Little Engine That Could”  too many times as a child, or maybe it’s that I can be a teeny bit obsessive when it comes to completing what I’ve started, or maybe I’m just too darned stubborn for my own good.  But for whatever reason, every once in a while I find myself plugging away at a particular goal long after it has become obvious that my chances of success are less than zero, and the only sensible thing to do is give up.  That little train engine may have chanted, “I think I can! I think I can!” but sometimes it’s much more honest to say, “I thought I could, but I was wrong.  I thought I could, but I was wrong.”

Recently, fellow blogger Kate (who writes a wonderful blog called Aroused) invited me to do an interview for another blog she writes called “Meet the Bloggers Blog.”  I was flattered to be invited to do that, and quickly agreed.  She emailed me the questions, with the request that I send my answers back to her, including links to two of my blog posts.  It sounded easy enough, and I had no trouble answering the questions.  So far, so good.  But then I tried to include the links and that’s when everything came to a grinding halt.

My computer uses Word, so I wrote my answers in that, including what I thought were the working links she requested, and emailed it to her.  Now a smart person would have checked those links before she sent the email, but I didn’t.  Draw your own conclusions about that.  Once I realized my mistake, I emailed her again and let her know the links didn’t work, but I would try to fix it.  Two hours later, I had chatted on-line with a Word Press Help assistant, looked up several sites on how to attach a link to a Word document, filled Kate’s inbox with several more increasingly apologetic emails notifying her of each failure, and still haven’t figured out anything about how to add a link except that maybe my word-processing system and Word Press don’t play well together.

DSC03342 2My tendency to keep trying in the face of obvious failure isn’t just limited to technology, either.  I love homegrown tomatoes, and for the past several years have been trying to grow my own.  One year I even succeeded and harvested a few dozen.  But that’s just one year.  Mostly, I grew tomato plants that were massive in size, but were also infested with white flies that kept the tomatoes from ripening properly.  The looked bad and tasted worse.  This year, I have a beautiful, white-fly free, normal-sized tomato plant in my back yard that has at least twenty tomatoes on it.  All of them green, as they have been since early July, and will probably remain that way until the first frost kills them.

Sometimes the only thing to to is throw in the towel and admit defeat.  At best, we can try to salvage something from our efforts that we can put to practical use in another area.  The one good thing that came from my efforts to add a link to my favorite blog post was that I realized the post I liked best was written just a few months after I started this blog, meaning that very few people, other than my mother and my husband, have actually read it.  I’m thinking it could be a good idea to re-post it on my blog, as soon as I figure out how to do that.  Which most likely means that you can expect to see it on this blog sometime in 2020, if I’m not smart enough to give up before then.

Do What You Can

There are few things I love more than walking on a beach.  I prefer to walk right on the edge of the water, where I can listen to the waves roll in, search for sea shells, and keep an eye out for passing dolphins.  Sometimes I have to step out of the way of flocks of birds or other people, but usually I just stroll along in peaceful oblivion.  For me, there is no better way to reduce stress and calm my soul than to take a long walk on a beach.   Most of the time, that is.

img_2276Because the problem with beaches is that they are controlled by nature, and not designed specifically for my peace and enjoyment.  Which explains why on my recent Florida vacation, I headed eagerly to the beach for an afternoon walk only to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of shells that had been washed ashore by the previous night’s storms. And most of them were still alive (sea shells are actually the exterior skeleton of soft-bodied animals called mollusks), stranded on the hot beach several yards away from the ocean water they needed to continue living.

Most of other people at the beach were ignoring the plight of the beached mollusks but I felt compelled to try to help. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I often rescue worms stranded on the sidewalk after heavy rains, too.)  I began by picking up as many live shells as I could hold and then wading knee-deep into the ocean before gently placing them on the ocean floor.  Several trips later, I realized  that I had barely made a dent in the number of shells  in the pile nearest me, and that there were many more shells stranded all up and down the shore as far as I could see.  I felt both helpless and frustrated, but I still wasn’t ready to give up.

So I began to walk slowly down the beach, scanning the shells as I went and picking up only those that were moving.  (I figured the ones that were actively trying to get back in the water had the best chances of living.)  I’m sure I returned at least one hundred “fighting conch” shells to the ocean, and maybe more.  I had no idea if putting them back in the water actually saved them, and I know I walked right past several hundred more shells that were still stranded on the beach, with the mollusks in them slowly dying.

img_2267I really wished I had been able to save them all, but I also knew there was no way that I possibly could, even if I stayed on the beach till dark and someone lent me a wheelbarrow to tote all the shells.  But somewhere during my walk I stopped feeling frustrated with my inability to save them all, and actually began to feel just a smidgen of satisfaction that I was, perhaps, at least saving some of them.  That day, my walk on the beach wasn’t peaceful or relaxing, but it did have a purpose.

That day helped me to remember that even though I can’t fix everything, I can always fix something.  And that all I have to do is try.

True Victory

There are many times when I wish life was more like the movies, where there’s almost always a happy ending.  I wish that I could know for sure that no matter how bleak things look, if I just keep on trying hard enough and don’t give up, that I will triumph in the end.  That I will have that moment of victory, usually accompanied by lots of applause and inspiring music.  Sadly, real life seldom works that way.

The truth is, sometimes my best just isn’t good enough.  I tried for years to become a commercially successful children’s book writer, but it never happened.  Instead of a shelf full of my published books, I have a file cabinet stuffed full of rejection letters.  I have taken aerobics classes, yoga classes, pilate classes, and spent hours on my exercise bike and walking around the neighborhood, but my chubby upper thighs are still with me.  (I strongly suspect that even if I starved to death, they would still be there.  They are that resilient.)

IMG_0411I head down to the local humane society three times a week to walk the shelter dogs, but no matter how many I walk, no matter how many frightened dogs I comfort, or how many rowdy dogs I work with to teach the most basic of manners, there are always more dogs that I don’t have time to help.  My husband and I work hard to take care of our house and my mother’s house, but no matter how much time and money we spend on them, there is always something else that needs to be done.

Real life rarely comes with a sense of closure, never mind triumph.  The older I get, the less I believe in the whole concept of winning.  I think I am one of the few people who approves of coaches giving the young children on their team a trophy at at the end of the season, just for being on the team.  Those trophies aren’t rewards for winning, but they do acknowledge the perseverance of showing up for every practice and game and always giving your best effort, even when you don’t win.  Which, if you think about it, is probably a better preparation for real life than playing on a team that wins every game.

The only thing I can ever offer is my best effort.  I don’t know whether or not my best effort is going to fix a situation or guarantee that I reach my goal, because the truth is that sometimes it will, and other times it won’t.  But I think the important thing is that I don’t get discouraged and quit trying, because that will guarantee that I never accomplish a thing, and I don’t want to live like that.  I want the courage to keep trying, the wisdom to change strategies when necessary, and the perseverance to never stop trying to make the little bit of the world that I touch a better place.

So I’ll keep writing, because I love to write and I’m not a happy person when I’m not writing.  I’ll get back on that exercise bike and head off to my yoga class because I’m a healthier person when I exercise, even if my chubby thighs insist on staying with me.  And I’ll keep heading down to the humane society to help shelter dogs, even with the terrible knowledge that I won’t be able to save them all.  Because I’m finally realizing that the real victory is not giving up.