After months of relentlessly writing a weekly blog post you might have noticed I went missing. At least I hope someone noticed and wondered what happened. No, I did not go into the witness protection program although if Raylon Givens had been the one to transport me to my new secret location I might have considered it. The reason for disappearing from blog-land is more pedestrian. Writing is hard. Rejection is painful. And I’m wimpy.
I wonder how Robert M. Pirsig, the motorcycle riding philosopher and author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, persevered through four years of writing followed by rejections from 121 misguided publishers. Eventually it was published and sold 5 million copies but where did he find the fortitude to submit it one more time? I believe he’s clearly made of stronger stuff than I. It’s not that I can’t put my nose to the grindstone and soldier on. I did, after all, earn a Ph.D. which is not for the faint of heart. But school had a familiar and reassuring format. Assignment, completion, feedback, grade. Study all the time, take exams. For me that worked pretty darn well. But writing is different. It’s a black hole, a void into which you send something and if you hear anything at all, it’s usually rejection. I understand better than ever why Sally Field exclaimed “you like me, you really like me,” as she accepted her Oscar. Never mind that the quote has changed a bit over the years, the reason we remember it at all is because we get it. At some level we all want to be liked and rejection sucks.
In fact our brains crave acceptance. We are hard wired to want to be liked and seen in a positive light by friends, family and even those we’ve never met. Research has shown that when someone likes us, the dopamine pathway, our brain’s pleasure loving reward center, lights up in neuronal joy. Better than sex? Maybe not but it looks pretty similar on a brain scan. To our long ago ancestors rejection from our human herd meant death so we’ve evolved to seek connection and avoid being an outlier. Rejection sucks so bad it’s a greater predictor of adolescent violence than being in a gang or taking drugs. And many acts of domestic violence, work place rage and school shootings are the final desperate act of someone who was rejected. Luckily I don’t pack heat.
Not only does rejection hurt emotionally, but it screws with us cognitively. Scientists have learned that the pain of rejection will temporarily cause us to score lower on tests of decision making, memory, and IQ tests. So when we most need to have our wits about us, they fail us. To make matters worse, we often add to our misery by beating ourselves up. We tend to focus on our short-comings and take it to the extreme leading to a precipitous drop in self-esteem. As Harriet Lerner put it, “Rejection is a fast route back to childhood shame.” Oh yeah, I’ve traveled that highway.
Rejection is so hurtful, it’s a wonder anyone ever asks someone out, apples for a job, or submits anything for publication. But what’s the alternative? The only way to avoid rejection is to never take a risk. Stay home. Remain mute. Not much of a life. Not being liked or accepted is part of the human condition. Everyone faces it sometime but writers are particularly rejection prone. Lerner’s classic book, The Dance of Anger, was rejected for five years before finally finding a publishing home and selling 3 million copies. If you want to write, or live in the world for that matter, the lesson seems to be – keep on keeping on. Take risks, deal with the rejection. I’ve given myself a good talking to and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep writing and consider myself in good company as I rake in the rejection.
But changes are a comin. To you faithful readers, mostly friends who know me personally, thank you for reading. I plan on changing this blog to a different web host, translation free web host, so that I can continue writing posts while considering bigger projects. Maybe even writing them. Maybe even submitting them. I’ll let you know as the changes take place. I wouldn’t want to lose you in cyber-land. After all, like Sally Field, I want you to like me. Really like me!
Talks I found inspiring:
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating here.
This is a longer listen but really, really worth it. Here is J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement speech on the “benefits of failure.” Very funny and incredibly inspiring. Listen here.