You guys, I had one of those rough days yesterday. We’ve all had them. Those days when, for some mysterious reason, Criticism and Rejection and Disappointment decide to band together and visit you, one right after the other right after the other, all within the same span of 24 hours, like annoying uninvited guests who crash the perfectly lovely party you had planned.
Now, I want to say right off the bat that I know I am really lucky. My bad day did not include me, or anyone I love, becoming hurt or sick or injured. It did not include any car accidents or broken gadgets or lost items. The worst it contained in that regard was a cup of spilled tea, which I will get to in a moment.
But still, at the end of the day, I was left feeling a little bit beaten-up. A little bit discouraged. A little bit heartsick. And I want to share this with you because sometimes the Internet can be so shiny. We read these beautiful blogs with gorgeous photos and happy news and goals and milestones and that is all well and good. I love reading these inspiring blogs — they give me hope and motivate me. However, no one’s life is a highlight reel. I believe there is beauty and worth in the messiness, too. I want to show you my messiness as well as my happy dances.
I have been fortunate enough to have been able to pursue my dreams of writing and teaching for more than a decade now. At this point, I have learned to expect rejection. When I send out a short story or query an editor about an article idea, I prep myself for disappointment as soon as I press the “send” button. Rejection is the price of admission to creativity, as one of my favorite writers says. Every “no” you receive is one step closer to a “yes.” I believe in that, deeply. So rejections don’t normally bother me too much, even when they come in a string one right after the other.
But lately, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Inspired by the amazing Whitney at sometimes.always.never, I have given myself a goal of taking one small risk every single day. Applying for programs and opportunities that I might have otherwise talked myself out of. Putting myself out there, reaching out to people I admire, sending that email, submitting that idea for a speaking gig, because, I ask myself … what do you have to lose? Nothing.
Let me tell you, friends, that is a terrific space to be living and creating in. I have felt very inspired the past month since I started doing this. I am feeling more empowered in my creativity. I am filled with more optimism and ideas. While sometimes I am still anxious to take these little risks, as a whole I am finding myself embracing the unknown more than I would have thought possible. My life has felt full-to-the-brim with opportunity.
But something that I wasn’t anticipating was what it would feel like when these new little risks ended in rejection. For some reason, the disappointment feels more acute. I haven’t braced myself for it in the same way I prepare myself for rejections of my writing pieces. Maybe my skin hasn’t had time to grow thick enough yet, in this new space I am occupying, outside of my comfort zone.
So yesterday, when I received two perfunctory rejections to neat opportunities I had excitedly thrown my hat in the ring for, in addition to a rejection of one of my short stories from a literary journal… it stung. It really stung. I felt that pit of disappointment yawn open in my stomach. That awful feeling of not being good enough hovered around the outskirts of my consciousness like a dark cloud threatening rain. I think we all have that feeling sometimes. You can be a confident, strong, empowered person, and still have those moments when you doubt yourself.
What I’ve found works best for me is not to give those doubts any extra power by tapping into anger or jealousy. I repeat to myself, over and over in my head, that I am worthy and I am enough, exactly as I am. That I don’t need any accolades or rewards to make myself matter. And, after the initial sting has calmed down a little, I reach down into that place of compassion and generosity inside myself. I try to open it wider, like a valve being loosened. And yes, when I push myself to try, I truly can feel others’ joy. I can feel joy for the people who did receive the opportunities that I was rejected from, because they worked very hard and are incredibly deserving. Just as I know that one day in the future — as has happened in the past — I will be on the receiving end of an acceptance letter. There will be other people who receive rejection letters. I would want them to be happy for me. This is what it means to me to practice abundance, not scarcity. To celebrate the joys for each other.
Yesterday, I was teaching a private writing lesson for two of my favorite students. Everything was going wonderfully — they were super into the lesson, writing their creative stories with abandon, pencils flying across their lined notebook paper. We have our weekly lessons at the kitchen table and their mother always sweetly pours me a cup of tea to enjoy. On this day, mine was filled to the brim. It was sitting on the kitchen table, cooling down. One of my students had a question, and as I reached over to take a look at her paper, my arm bumped the mug of tea … and it spilled all over the table. I mean, ALL over the table, my friends. I leaped up and grabbed the mug, but the damage had already been done. My students’ papers were soaked through.
I felt mortified. I felt ashamed. I felt disappointed in myself. I felt stupid. I felt SO bad for spilling that tea!
But my students taught me something. They are only nine and eleven years old, but they possess so much grace.
“I’m so sorry, you guys!” I said. “I can’t believe I just did that!”
“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” they said. And I could sense it immediately — they weren’t upset. They grabbed some paper towels and rags from the laundry room, and together we cleaned up the mess. I blotted their papers with towels and set them on the counter to dry. They weren’t ruined after all, just wet. Once they dried, they would be fine.
However I was still annoyed with myself, feeling aggravated and to-blame for the disruption. “I’m so sorry, you guys,” I said again.
“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” said the nine-year-old boy, a seriousness in his voice that I rarely hear. (Usually he is full of laughter and playfulness.) “It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.” And he proceeded to tell me about the time he spilled an entire bowl of soup on his lap.
“Plus, now it smells nice in here — like green tea!” his sister chimed in.
Even as I type this, I have tears in my eyes. I want to treat myself with as much forgiveness and gentleness and understanding as those two wonderful kids showed me. When, metaphorically, my brimming mug of piping hot tea spills all over the table — when I feel disappointed, or criticized, or rejected, or frustrated — I want to respond the way they did. With calm. With love. With a shrug of the shoulders. With the knowledge that it’s going to be okay.
Together, we dried off the table. We got out fresh sheets of lined paper. They kept writing.
So, do you know what I’m doing today? I’m picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting over again. I’m still pushing myself to take those small daily risks. I’m still going after those opportunities that seem out of my reach, out of my comfort zone. I’m still trying my best to learn and grow and push myself every single day, even when it is painful. Even when it is hard. Even when it is scary. Because it is still worth it, always.
Oh! And in case you’re wondering, I did learn another lesson from that mug of spilled tea. As I sit here at my desk, I’m drinking my green tea out of a travel mug. With the lid on. 😉