The words always sting: ‘We regret to inform you’, ‘we were very impressed, however’, the eternal cowardly use of ‘unsuccessful’ (you didn’t fail, you just didn’t succeed). I’ve had my fair share of rejections. Behind every item you can see listed on my CV, there are many failures. Poetry competitions I didn’t win, positions I didn’t qualify for, journalism pitches gone forever unanswered, awards I didn’t win. Internships I didn’t get, teams I didn’t make. So many achievements I didn’t quite deserve. And somehow, I am learning not to care.
Somehow, I am learning not to care
My personal breakthrough came in the form of a) realising that everyone’s success is supported by an edifice entirely held up by failure and rejection and b) realising that sharing my rejections, or, to put it somewhat crudely, owning them, frees me from them. When I think about my past rejections, I do not feel miserable. To acknowledge and accept your own failures is not to undermine your achievements. It is to accept that failure is simply a part of the process. I know, for example, that it took a magnificent seven attempts for me to get an editorial position here at Palatinate. I don’t feel any less successful. I am not shy about it, though this does not come naturally to me. And the more I tell people about my failures, the more comfortable I get with them. I learn to inhabit them. They become my own space- not a non-space that I am barred from. It is so liberating.
Let others see that they, too can be great and whole and still be rejected.
To have faced many rejections means that I dared to try. It means I dared face the risk of rejection (and the dread of interviews), which used to put me off applying to things at all. It also means I no longer believe that ‘successful’ people have faced fewer rejections. The numbers really have nothing to do with it. Success is measured by success, not by how small the number of times you failed is. If you try to publish a poem one hundred times, and have it accepted once, your success is not 99% failure, but 100% success.
Success is measured by success, not by how small the number of times you failed is.
So put yourself out there. Get rejected. Do not equate your ‘success’, however it is you measure this, to your self-worth. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your failures. Be vulnerable, and openly so, and let others see that they, too can be great and whole and still be rejected. They can be rejected and still be whole. Be supported, and then move on. It’s all part of the process. You are resilient now. Breathe.
Illustration by Kleopatra Olympiou