The day I graduated from college in 2004, the first thing I did was visit a friend of mine who is an artist in her early fifties and asked her 2 questions:
1) How will I know when I am doing the right thing in life?
2) What if I choose this path as a writer and everyone rejects me?
I explained that school had not equipped me to handle rejection because I always had teachers to guide me on my way to being an A student; if I was smart I could study my teachers well enough and give them exactly what they wanted. Choosing to be a writer was something more personal to me – at some point I would have to let people know what I believed in and stood for and that meant possible rejection. My friend listened to my fears and told me that she did not know the answers but she did know that to be happy I would have to remain true to myself even if it meant rejection.
These were not the words I wanted to hear so instead of being a writer; I decided to run from my dream, first by traveling and living in different countries and then by going to business school. However, at some point we all have to face our fears and I did: a few months before graduating with an MBA I chose to be a writer and an entrepreneur and with this came rejection. For the last 3 years, it seemed as if all I ever received was just rejection letters and emails, and of course bills, but recently there have been shifts and people telling me that my writing has changed and become more honest. A few weeks ago I told my sister that I thank 3 years of failure for teaching me how to use rejection to make me a better writer:
1) Use rejection as a tool to explore negative emotions
Rejection can bring out some of the darkest emotions in you; instead of running from these emotions explore them and use them as a tool to explore the “dark side” of your mind. I hate to say it but tragedy, failure and all those ugly emotions we try to avoid, give us and our characters depth, and failure reminds us that we are not perfect but human. As a writer you inspire people not because you are perfect and you know everything you are doing but because you are human and you are honest and you can share these stories of failure to connect with others. It has taken me a while to break out of my need to be a perpetual A student and appear perfect and to start sharing my stories about rejection in order to connect with people. A friend once told me that people break boundaries not because they are perfect and on point with everything, but because they continue to challenge themselves in the midst of failure.
2) See it as a challenge and something to build your resolve
When you are busy getting rejected the pain is so overwhelming that the last thing you want to do is ask what lessons you are learning or what opportunities there are in this moment. In fact, all you know is that you are being rejected and this reality makes you feel like a failure. And if you are like me, you also have some friends asking you if maybe this is a sign that you are on the wrong path, which just accentuates your pain and loneliness. At some point you will have to ask yourself that fateful question: why am I doing this? When this happens you are doomed because you have to find an answer and decide if it is worth it. And somewhere deep in your soul you have to drag up faith that the path you are on is the right one and that is when you learn to trust yourself and stand up for something and decide to become better at your art.
3) Use it as a way to challenge your assumptions
It took me a very long time to get over my ego and start asking: what can I do to start getting maybe or yes as an answer and to follow up with some people and ask for feedback. That change in attitude made a big difference to me, not just as a writer but as an entrepreneur and a person. This new attitude led me to start a radio show and ask some bloggers I truly admired to share their knowledge with me and others, which taught me a lot. Sometimes rejection is not personal and is simply just a sign that there is a disconnect somewhere along the line. All you need is a minor adjustment and alignment, which means going the extra mile and examining your premises in order to get results.
4) Let every rejection teach you to master your mind
When most of us get bad news or get rejected, our first instinct is to cry and grab for a candy bar, instead of seeing rejection as part of life. Every time I got a rejection letter or email I would let it throw my whole day off track and spend hours in bed wondering what was wrong with me and basically questioning my entire existence. It was my inability to cope with rejection that led me to meditation and Eastern philosophies, which taught me to start mastering my mind and regard both good and bad events as part of life. I knew something was working when I stopped being scared of checking the mail, answering the phone or reading email.
5) Use it as a barometer to measure small victories
I was never good at celebrating small victories, like a simple maybe from a potential client, instead I was the kind of person that believed that to excel I had to be harsh with myself and focus on my failures so I can improve upon them. But rejection taught me the importance of celebrating small victories and being grateful for still being able to wake up everyday and not give up on my dreams.
I have learned that my assumptions of rejection making me a failure can also be viewed as persistence and courage by others. This makes me wonder if all the rejections and failures we experience along the way, are simply lessons we need to go through to be the best we can be and do things we never thought possible?
Image by Flickr user: smemon87
Author: Vangile Makwakwa has an MBA from the Simmons School of Management in Boston, MA and is a writer and spoken word poet. She is the founder of Speak2BFree and coaches women entrepreneurs and artists by teaching them to rewrite their stories so they can manifest their dreams now.