Over the holidays one of my girlfriends told me about this new book that she was reading called Rejection Proof. I won’t go into the details about the book suffice to say that it made me really think about rejection and what that means to being someone who is starting over.
My thoughts are a little all over the place so I’m just going to jot them down
(1) Rejection is new.
Facing rejection is strangely a new. (I’m not talking about minor rejections, I’m talking about MAJOR rejections) I have been lucky enough to not have to deal with it much, mostly because I followed the script of “success” that had been laid out before me. Go to school, do well, get a job, go to a good law school, get a good law job. None of that required much rejection because I pretty much went from one thing to the next. It wasn’t until I had “made it” in the system did I realize that it didn’t satisfy me. Like Jia Jiang the author of Rejection Proof – it wasn’t until I was sitting in my lawyer glass office in the New York Times building, did I realize it all felt empty.
I’m not a unique case, many people my age have the same feeling. If you go online and watch Ted talks or google books, there are bajillions of results for remedying this “hate my job” crisis that a lot of people seem to have. Most people stay in their jobs, but for some the discomfort is so overwhelming that they just have to leave. I had to leave. It took me a year to decide to quit and it wasn’t clear where I was going but I had to just get out. Right after quitting I had an initial surge of energy. In that time I did the bulk of the writing for my book. After that I was lucky enough to walk right into a consulting gig. Then I went traveling for a year. Only now am I truly facing the consequences of my decision and having to evaluate whether it still makes sense for me to be on the outside. Some days I just want to run back to the safety of a job inside the system, but then I hear stories from my lawyer friends and realize how grateful I am to be on the outside.
The further away I am from my time as a lawyer, the more I tend to forget what drove me out of the system in the first place. Facing my own struggles on trying to make it on my own is intensely uncomfortable. It is daily and relentless. But having now been on the outside for 3.5 years, and as cliche as it sounds, I actually am much more fulfilled than before. Even if everything else sucks, it feels amazing to know what I am doing and why. I must constantly remind myself to draw courage from this. The struggles ahead will be long and painful but as Viktor Frankl said “what a man needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him”. My struggle to bring more levity, compassion and clarity through art to the law is a struggle that is worthy of me. And because of that, the pain and suffering is worth it.
(2) My own 100 days of rejection.
It was only a few months ago did I really start to understand the true meaning of being a writer. In today’s internet world, it means a lot more hyping and a lot less writing. I was sorely disappointed to find out that writing something and having no audience isn’t really writing. My huba-friend keeps reminding me that you’re not a writer if no one reads what you write. Kind of like if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, it didn’t fall. (I believe it did fall, but that’s besides the point). Writing for myself is just journaling. Because of this, we have set out a schedule for my marketing activities. At first it seemed overwhelming, but broken down into manageable pieces each day, it is something I can do and tick off my daily to-do list. Between sending out books, posting, following up, it is a pretty well oiled machine. It feels pointless and ineffective but I know I must just do it, if only just to move books out the door.
In the process of all of this, I seem to have unwillingly and unknowingly stumbled into my own 100 days of rejection. Most of the books I send out to people will return nothing. But I have gotten a couple of responses and I suppose I should focus on that. I got one flat out “your book is not even worthy of a coffee-table” response which stung initially but then turned out to be not such a bad exchange. I thought about what I’ve read in terms of how to turn those rejections around and so far it seemed to help me deal with rejection better. As a first step, engage the rejector because it also takes them emotional energy to say no. Ask why. Start a dialogue. My huba-friend says that at the very least the “no” responses was a response. He said the worst is not getting a response at all. That you’ve sent them a book and they can’t even be bothered to care / respond to an email. I suppose he’s right but somehow that feels not as bad to me. I just assumed most people wouldn’t care enough to respond.
I suppose it’s very much like sending out resumes. Getting a response with a firm “not interested” could open the door to asking “why” whereas what do you even do with no answer?
It has definitely made me look at rejection a different way, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way as an initial response.
(3) Quieting the questioning.
Back to the point of the struggles, let me say it is not for everyone. Actually it is for very few people because boy does it suck out here. You really really have to be convicted about what you’re doing to push through all the resistance, the “who cares” and the incredible discomfort of going from being at the top of the salary chain to making less than a McDonald’s employee. The safety of a pay-cheque, no matter how distasteful, is a big portion of one’s self-confidence, especially as someone who has high earning potential. To suffer day after day of seeing the savings drain out is a mental and emotional slog. So much so that it really makes you question the value of what you’re doing. But this questioning must be quieted because it doesn’t help the situation.
On this point – I have several thoughts.
First, you have to believe in your own conviction before you can convince anyone else of it. You must be 100% certain of the merits of what you’re doing even if it makes no sense to other people initially. For this I look to my friend who built a tiny house with her own bare hands. When she first talked about the idea, it was such a small and unknown concept. Everyone including myself thought she was CRAZY to want to build a tiny house, in Canada nonetheless. We all didn’t get it but she pushed through. I wish I had more opportunity to be there to help her build it. I didn’t myself get it but I certainly felt her conviction and it made me want to help her achieve her goal. Fast forward a couple years and she is happily ensconced in her most amazing tiny house and has now inspired all of us to want tiny houses of our own.
Second, financial concerns are real. A lot of people leave the system and have to go back because they run out of money. This is a must when you run out of money. If your motorboat runs out of gas, how are you going to sail to anywhere? I am luckily a total scaredy-cat when it comes to running out of money. I have been blessed with parents who are financially prudent and whom have passed those values down to me. I won’t rule out going back to the system if/when I feel like I’ve run out of money, but this time the expectation will be different. The work will be to feed myself and not to fulfill me. That part comes from writing and running all of this.
Third, I worry about legitimacy and standing. One of the things that comes with being in the system is instant recognition. If you attach your name to a recognized institution, your credibility will be instantly higher. This one is the hardest to reconcile with. On the one hand, it seems highly tempting to take a job at an education institution to lend my work credibility. On the other-hand, I worry that it will completely eat up my time leaving me with no room to do the thing I set out to do. I also wonder what it will look like 10 years from now. The regret of not having a proper title is something I am aware of within my own family and I want to avoid this feeling. Being cognizant of this, I wonder if I would be doomed to repeat that mistake and error if I just spend my entire time on the outside. I am not certain of the answer to this yet but it is something I remain aware of. The flip side of this is that nothing replaces time spent doing the thing you are doing. The credibility can come from just years of doing it, regardless of name-brand recognition. All things – a fine balance.
All of this thinking really brings me back to where I am. Writer and occasional education consultant. It’s like filling in a back-story for a developed character who didn’t quite think about how she got to where she is. It is not as clean as “New York City Corporate Lawyer”, but it’s certainly more interesting; and at the very least a character worthy enough to be the protagonist of her own story.