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Rejections

Well, another job fell through. At least they had the courtesy to let me know personally this time; I've received too many slapdash emails from secretaries I've never met. After the third mass letter I received from the local public library saying they chose someone "whose qualification [sic] better fit the needs of the position," I shot back a disgruntled reply that the person they hired over me better have had more than one. (I wonder why they never called back when I applied for other jobs there later?)

If there's one constant in the universe, it's that everyone at some time will face rejection. The only way to avoid it is to never take any risks, to never interact with other human beings. I did that for the first two decades of my life, and it worked rather well. I never tried to make friends with people I liked, never tried to speak up against people I disagreed with, never tried anything unless I was absolutely certain I would succeed. And so, of course, I never succeeded at anything that was really worth doing.

But over the past couple of years, I've become very used to rejection. I've read cool criticisms of my fiction from agents and downright acidic criticisms from readers. I've been passed over for more jobs than I can count. I'm so accustomed to rejection that I anticipate it before it happens—if anyone ever says "yes," I'll probably assume they made some mistake.

A natural reaction whenever someone faces rejection is to wish they'd never tried at all. I found myself thinking that after the phone call today: "I wish I hadn't applied in the first place. It would have been better if they'd never called me in. I shouldn't have bought that expensive outfit or wasted the whole week practicing that presentation." When people attack me for my opinions, I sometimes wish I'd never spoken out. When people disparage my stories, I wish I'd never published them.

Failures always seem like you wasted your time in hindsight. But unless you can foresee the future, there's no way to avoid them. Sweetie always tells me not to evaluate my decisions based on the outcome, but based on whether it was the right one at the time. At the time, it was smart to apply for the job. At the time, it was smart to give that presentation and interview my all. Assuming I would fail and sitting on my haunches would have guaranteed failure.

Small successes are often buried in failure, too. I've gotten pretty good at composing applications and sitting for interviews through my repeated rejections. Bubbles Pop may have bombed, but writing and publishing it wasn't a waste of time. I know my composition skills have improved a lot over the past year, just from writing a bunch of terrible shorts and rotten half-novels. And the marketing, graphic design, and copyediting skills I gained from self-publishing have been enormously useful at work (I strongly suspect that flashing my pretty paperback around was the primary reason I even have work right now). Just last week I made eBook versions of the program for our upcoming conference.

Writing-related rejections are much better than job rejections, though, because readers and critics will always tell you exactly why you suck. Employers never tell you outright why they chose someone else—they're too afraid of lawsuits. Even if you ask, they'll never come out and say that you didn't have the experience they wanted, or you answered a key question wrong, or you had bad breath.

But reviewers aren't shy about that sort of thing at all. Readers won't rate a book one star and move on. Oh no. They'll rant and rave about it. They'll tear it into tiny pieces and set fire to the shreds. Authors think the people writing the one-star reviews are mean, ungrateful bullies, but I prefer them to the conspiracy of silence in the business world.

Long story short, I'm going to keep writing books and applying for jobs, even knowing I'll be rejected many times over. It won't be a "waste of time" forever.

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