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Learning How To Move Past Rejection

As the great 20th century scribe Eryka Badu once said, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my ___.” In my decade plus journey as an artist, I can assure you that no truer words have ever been spoken. To be an artist is to be someone that creates something and sometimes, the bravest of us share our art with the world.

One of the results of sharing your work with the world however, is that you have to deal with rejection. That’s true of any industry or passion that you can imagine. I know that rejection has been a large part of my career. Almost too large, if you ask me. Most times I can move past it, but recently I was hit with a rejection that cut a little deeper than most rejections.

Back in August of 2021, I submitted some poetry for an anthology, and waited with hope. I’ve been rejected by all the other literary magazines and poetry contests I applied for last year, but I was still holding out hope. I felt like I chose some strong pieces to submit to the anthology, so all I could do was sit back and wait.

And wait I did, until March 11, 2022. I could tell immediately that it was a rejection notice. That made a total of six submissions in 2021, and now I’m 0-6. First of all, can we talk about how disrespectful it is to make someone wait half a year just to tell them, “Naw we good?!” I understand that some magazines have large followings and everybody and their mama wanna get published, but Bruh!!! Six months!!? Although I will say, four months seems to be the minimum wait, so in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t too long. I think it just stung more because of this particular opportunity.

So yeah, another rejection. Picture me channeling my inner DJ Khalid as I say, “Another one.” At this point, I’m lowkey highkey ready to give up on being published in these magazines and anthologies.To be fair, even the folks who are getting published experience a high amount of rejections. I know that I haven’t put the reps in to give up on being published, but I’m just saying how I feel.

Rejection. It sucks, but it’s a huge part of life. It seems like all your favorite successful folks can agree on that one thing. I know that, you know that, but at some point you can’t help but take it personally. I have an acquaintance that texted me on my phone and told me to submit to a poetry magazine he was editor at, and I still got declined. At that point all I could do was laugh. Laugh to keep from crying right?

Rejection sucks, but the key to moving past that is to remember all of your wins. Go back in the recesses of your mind and pull out that memory of when you tried and you succeeded! It may not have been big to others but it was a big deal for you and you celebrated. Celebrate yourself again. It’s a great way to move past that initial sting of rejection.

Take me, for instance. Sure, I have been unable to get published in Louisville, KY or almost anywhere else, but I was added to a digital archive with the Indiana State Library. No magazines so far think my work is a good fit, but I have folks in states all around the country who are actually purchasing my book. As recent as the beginning of March, I mailed my book to the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center!

Another way to move past rejection is to talk to someone about it. I know a lot of poets in Kentucky but only one who has been published multiple times. I reached out to him and he helped put some things in perspective. When he asked how many submissions I had in total, it told him 22. He didn’t laugh or minimize it, but he did tell me that he had twice that number of rejections before he got his first acceptance. Ouch.

Remember how I said earlier that I knew I hadn’t put in enough reps to call it quits on getting published? Welp, my friend confirmed that for me. My friend put the battery in my back and he’s convinced me to keep trying. He also got rejected for the same opportunity I submitted for, but he wasn’t letting that stop him, so I’m not gonna let it stop me either.

In my decade of writing, I have some things to be proud of. I’m not getting published, but there are people who have paid and want to pay me to come recite my words to them. The same words that aren’t a good fit for some (They are out there, I just haven’t found them yet) magazines are consoling folks who need rest and have lost their homes. There is more than one way to get my work out there and I’m doing that, even if it’s just me emailing hundreds of organizations and getting a handful of yeses.

Rejection is in my future as well as yours, we need to accept that. It’s easy to say you aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s another to see people’s faces when they recoil in disgust at what you are offering them. Rejection is personal, there’s no need to pretend that it’s not. Whether it’s a job, relationship, or some other endeavor, you are being told that what you have to offer isn’t enough, but you know what? That’s OK. Though you have been rejected and will continue to be rejected, that also means that there are folks out there who will accept you.

You’ve been accepted before, and will be again. Let’s try to press into that. Rejection has a sting that will fester if you let it. That’s why we have to rub the salve of acceptance into our wounds. You have to accept yourself and your current reality, as well as know that you have been and will be accepted by others. You just have to find them. As a Christian, I’ll add the additional layer that you are accepted and approved by God. If all else fails, please remember that. He loves you when others don’t, he doesn’t flinch at your wounds and scars, and He stays when all others leave.

I hope that this blog was able to help you. I’m still reeling from my most recent rejection, but I figured that since I share a lot of my wins that you need to see some of my losses too. Rejection comes for us all, we just have to be ready when it shows up.

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