Three months ago I submitted a poem in a magazine contest. I’ve only recently started to read poems, much less write them. But I wanted to try. I wanted to see what others might think. I wanted to put myself out there.
Last week I received the news that I didn’t win.
The email was predictable. It felt a bit worn, as if hundreds of others had already read the same email that very day.
Thank you for submitting. We appreciate and value everyone’s entry. The judges had a difficult job. They wished they could select all of the poems, but they couldn’t. Your entry was not selected. Thanks again. Please subscribe to our magazine.
In other words, my poem was rejected.
With the rejection notice, came questions.
- What was wrong with my poem?
- What did they not like about it?
- Are the winners’ poems really that much better?
- Was the contest nothing more than a ploy to get me to subscribe to a magazine?
- Why do I even try to write poetry at all?
- What is on TV right now?
The rejection I felt reminded me of asking a girl out on a date in high school. When I did ask, I was almost certain she would say yes. Maybe a friend told me she would. Or I saw a certain sparkle in her eye. But I never asked without a some sort of clue that my request would be answered positively.
Too often I never asked the person I really wanted to ask because I had no idea what she might say.
Nobody wants to be rejected.
Rejection is a Fork in the Road
Our lives can be this way. We don’t ask because the other person might say no. We don’t try because we might fail. We don’t take a leap of faith because we might fail and hurt ourselves. We don’t enter the contest because we might not win.
Rejection can be so intense that we begin to identify ourselves with it. When our requests or our efforts or our entries are rejected, we begin to feel like we are rejected. Unwanted. Undesirable. Unloved.
We have to understand that rejection has nothing to do with us.
I liked my poem. It is perhaps the best one I have written. But the truth is my poem could be better. Even if my poem had won, it could still be better.
And this is the fork in the road of our stories that rejection creates for us. Do we choose to identify who we are based on what others like?
Or do we realize that we can do better? Because we can always do better. We can always do more.
Whether we are rejected or accepted, when we understand our stories can always be better, then we empower ourselves to take the first steps. We can begin becoming better at what we do.
When an actress wins the Academy Award, the pinnacle of accomplishment for her field, it doesn’t mean she can stop learning. She can always get better. There is always some other story to tell.
Making Rejection Obsolete
How good my poem is or isn’t doesn’t really matter. If I had won, no big deal. Since I didn’t, no big deal. No lives are changed.
But when we do work that matters, then rejection ceases to exist. Failure becomes obsolete because the work itself is so important that we have to press on. We have to keep laboring and striving and failing.
When the work matters, rejection becomes obsolete. (Tweet that)
When the work is about loving others, then even the little bit you do poorly, matters too much to not do it.
When you Don’t Need to Win
The rejection letter only affirms one thing. It affirms what I already knew. That I need to keep writing. I need to practice and to learn and to get better.
The goal isn’t to win poetry contests, though. The goal is to write. To look into into my own soul. And then someday I will be able to write in such a way, I don’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody.
The goal in living a better story isn’t to win. It isn’t to be better than someone else.
It is to be fully alive.
I Remember Asking My Wife Out for the First Time
I had no idea what she would say. I didn’t have a chance to check with her friends. I just went for it.
I didn’t know what she would say, but I didn’t care if I was rejected. I was more afraid of not asking than I was of being rejected.
She said yes. And it has been the best decision I have ever made.
Are you afraid of being rejected?
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