Query Quagmire has a wonderful post up called How to cope with rejection letters: Stay calm and drink heavily. (Hopefully the link works. If not, it’s a post from July 12th.) Read it. It’s brilliantly funny. And makes an excellent point.
For the link averse, a few choice quotes:
“You have a better chance of immaculately conceiving and giving painless birth to a gay Republican unicorn than you do of getting fewer than three rejection letters.”
“You’re going to start to love your rejection letters. You’re going to create weird projects out of them. You’re going to design an art installation of origami birds folded out of rejection letters hanging from the ceiling, great flocks of them, titled ‘The Fickle Abandonment of Hope, Part VI.'”
“And then, one not so special day…you’re going to get a request for the full manuscript from a literary agent or acquisitions editor….And that wonderful, beautiful moment will happen because at no point during your months or years of receiving rejection letters did you give up.”
“Just accept that this is going to be a long, hard road, that it will feel like you’re walking on the shattered bone fragments of dead rejected authors who came before you, that at no point will it be easy. And then, when things work out in the end, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Just accept rejection as a fact of your publishing career and don’t give up.”
It’s really worth the read. And the message is a simple one. Don’t give up. Expect rejection and keep going. I firmly believe in this principle for most things in life.
Having said that, however, I think maybe today is a good day to talk about the flip side of never giving up, which is allowing yourself to walk away from something.
First, let me say that I think most people make the error of giving up too soon or not trying hard enough. Almost any path you choose will have obstacles and if you want to accomplish anything of substance you have to face and overcome those obstacles.
But there are times when people make themselves desperately unhappy pursuing a course that isn’t right for them whether that be a career, a hobby, or a relationship.
One of the few books that has ever made me cry is Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. Maybe others won’t see what I did in the book, but I saw a character who made himself destitute and miserable because he kept making the wrong choices in his life. That “never give up” approach failed him, and quite profoundly. Both with trying to be an artist and in trying to pursue a dead-end relationship.
So, when should you reconsider that career, hobby, or relationship? (And, as always, this is your life and you should make the choices about how you want to spend it. These are just the points where I would reconsider my decision.)
- If you are starving or basically homeless because of it.
- If sitting down to write or going to work or seeing that person makes you miserable or unhappy.
- If if affects your general self-esteem or well-being. (It’s perfectly normal to feel down about a rejection letter or a disagreement with someone you love, but I think it’s an issue if it starts to affect you on a broader scale.)
- If being involved with that career or relationship makes you bitter or angry or vengeful or you find yourself carrying around negative emotions all the time because of it.
- If it starts to cost you the healthy, supportive relationships in your life. (This is not “you lost that deadbeat, loser partner of yours that told you you’d never amount to anything.” Note the words “healthy” and “supportive.”)
Let’s see how this works in action. Should you continue to write? If you can’t eat this month and you feel ill every time you sit down in front of your computer and every rejection letter costs you days of depression and angry thoughts, then maybe not. Should you stay in that relationship? If being with that person makes you miserable and has cost you friends who used to encourage and support you, then maybe not. Should you stay in that job? If working at that job makes you feel angry all the time and is threatening your marriage, then maybe not.
One of the hardest things in life is to admit defeat and walk away. (And sometimes it’s not even defeat. Sometimes it’s something you’re good at that you need to walk away from.) It’s not in my general nature to give up. It’s not what I learned from my father’s example (as I discussed in that post the other day). I’m firmly in the “you haven’t lost until you quit or die” camp.
BUT. I’m also in the “there are only so many days we get to be on this earth” camp. And I’d much rather enjoy most of those days than spend them suffering because I couldn’t accept that something (or someone) wasn’t for me.
Each of us has to find that balance between struggle and happiness for ourselves and I’ll never tell someone that they should make the choices I’ve made. They’re not me. I don’t wake up and have to live their life every day. But if anyone out there reading this knows in their gut that they should quit something in their life then I at least (random nobody that I am) support you in that decision.
And if it’s just a bit of a bumpy road at the moment, then you can make it through this. Don’t quit just because it’s a little hard. Quit only because it’s not right for you.
(And on a lighter note – reasons to mistrust grammar and spell-check. WordPress wanted me to change “knows in their gut” to “nose in their gut.”)