On Accepting Rejection

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of female writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find here each week, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

I didn’t get the job.

Even before I was told, I knew I didn’t get the job. More than a month had passed since the interview that I was woefully unprepared for. But the confirmation, however expected, was still as pungent to me as a freshly sliced onion. It caused just as many tears, too. The water rising in my tear ducts crested as I read over every line in that email — it was a succinct 30-word message — one more time.

I swiftly changed tabs and opened Twitter — more a muscle-memory response to needing immediate distraction than an attempt to find any comfort. There I found two women whose careers I’ve followed for years, and whose efforts I’ve simultaneously admired and envied, announcing their good news: the impending release of a book, and a new editor position at a reputable outlet. In the midst of media layoffs and newsroom bloodbaths, they were succeeding.

How dare they.

“They’ve never gotten this email,” I thought in the throes of my pity party. Certainly, I figured, they’ve never bombed interviews in a way that made them want to immediately call up their interviewers and beg for a second chance — a do-over when their brains were in a better, less anxiety-riddled place. They never, not once, were capital-R Rejected, I was sure. I was a wreck.

Of course we talk about hardships all the time. We talk about bad days and bad traffic and lost luggage and burnt coffee and all the other ultimately banal but nevertheless day-ruining experiences that come with being vulnerable lumps of flesh stuck on a crowded rock that’s slowly cooking us all alive. What we seldom talk about, however, are the moments in which our vulnerability has been dismissed. Little is said about those times — the times when we give something our all, when we throw our whole selves at a goal and are still turned away. That conversation is especially absent when it comes to our careers and professional struggles.

Don’t get me wrong: A lot of people talk about how hard it is to succeed. J.K. Rowling has famously shared a number of her rejection letters in an effort to inspire new and struggling authors. And while that’s an important and powerful message, it’s an imperfect one. The flipside of recalling rejection from the comfort of success is that it suggests experiencing rejection holds no value without success. 

So we tuck those messages away. We hold up our heads and continue to strive toward the win that will give us some good news, that will make it appear as though our professional trajectory has only ever been on an upswing.

And that’s bullshit.

There was probably a job you wanted and didn’t get, too. You have most definitely gotten an email thanking you for your time, but the editor (or CEO, or partner, or general manager) of your dreams has decided to move forward with somebody else. We’ve all gotten them. Those successful women I mentioned earlier? They’ve gotten them. And the more we talk about being rejected — especially while still feeling the immediate sting of that rejection — the more normal rejection will feel. And it shouldn’t feel normal simply as a necessary step toward inevitable success, but rather as a human experience that is valid with or without a happy ending. To be rejected means we tried. That’s worth something. 

Months ago I set a goal to snag some impressive staff-writing position at a national outlet — one I could brag about on social media, if we’re being completely honest. And if I bind myself to that goal, then yeah, as I sit here now, I have failed. For six months — and dozens of cover letters and follow-up emails in which I maybe tried a little too hard to be clever — I have failed.

But I haven’t.

True failure would be failing to recognize that while I get to define what success is, I also get to change my mind along the way. And so do you! As a writer, maybe there’s something bigger out there for me — a book or a thriving freelance career that saves me from having to work in an office where I would languish under fluorescent lights and stew in an inept co-worker’s putrid cologne. Hell, my next win may be an opportunity that simply doesn’t exist yet. I see that now.

Today, I’m thankful for that rejection letter. And the several others that have followed since. Without that pitiful downward spiral that caused me to question my self-worth, I also wouldn’t have questioned whether or not I truly wanted what I initially set out to achieve. And now that the tears have dried and the dust of my professional world seemingly collapsing has started to settle, I see that I lost myself over the past several months. 

I became so driven to complete this arbitrary challenge — and so defeated when I failed to do so — that I forgot to look around me and remember all the rad shit I’ve already accomplished, the mountains I’ve already climbed. And the mountains I am in the midst of climbing.

Today, I don’t fear rejection. I don’t panic every time a new “Regarding your recent application ...” email lands in my inbox. Turns out I am very good at receiving rejection emails. Maybe the best, even! And goddamn right I’ll take that as a win. It’s a small step, but it’s a sign that I’m stepping at all — I’m still here. 

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