Handling rejection: some guidelines from wiser folks as to when to follow a dream and when to call it a day

I wear glasses! I’m smart!

Last week was a crisis in identity. Time to bust out the LSAT book and law school applications again. It was rejection time again, folks!  Ah, rejection. An inevitable part of it all. I’d love to hear how you all deal with it.

I have a low tolerance of alcohol, so instead of drinking like real writers, I wallow in self-pity and insecurity and must prove to the world that, dammit I’m smart, really friggin smart, like Ivy League scholarship smart and Yale Law school material in fact. Even if I can’t get a PA job on a show no one watches, I will show the world and my parents that I am smart.

I also feel like I need to have a tangible purpose to my seemingly purposeless life. Law is one of those professions that has tangible goal markers. It’s also more or less merit based. As a second option, I asked my husband whether we should knock out a couple of kids and live through them, see if we can get a reality show. (He said no.)

The main question that plagues me with each rejection is the question that humbles all writers — or should unless you were really lucky at a young age, in which case who gives a rat’s ass what anyone thinks since you can afford a lake house.  That question is: What if you suck? Or, scenario B, what if everyone says you suck except for readers, oh-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-writer? I think scenario B writers would be in the rat’s ass category, since readers are important for many writers critics and awards aside. Money is also important.

I saw “The Words,” a film in which one of the main writers is Bradley Cooper. Yum…A man you can bring home to Momma. With eyes that look like when Asian girls put in those blue contacts and look like the devil but sometimes manage to look great.

I digress. Cooper’s character is a writer who knows he is just not as good as the writer he ends up plagiarizing. He knows it. Barring psychological problems, deep down we all know what we are. Not everyone is Mozart as we all know from “Amadeus.” Some of us are F. Murray Abraham.

I know the famous quip back to this line of thinking: “who’s to say you suck? Just follow your passion.” However, I am not a subscriber to “follow your heart” regardless of truth and lack of audience and majority expert opinion. Maybe it’s because it’s too simple of a sound byte. Sometimes duty calls, responsibility takes over.  Sometimes you keep going down a path because it’s the only path you’ve been on or believe you should be on or now that you’ve been on it so long, might as well…Many times, you don’t really know what your heart is saying. And sometimes you do suck.

In the harsh but true words by Augusten Burrogh’s in his mock self-help book, “This is How,”he writes: “there are many, many people who do not need to be told to cling to their dreams (YouTube!); they need to have those dreams wrenched from their little fists before they waste their entire lives trying to achieve them.”

Is this a call to give up? No. Is this a call to not start seemingly impossible tasks, like freeing a nation? No, say the Gandhi’s and Mandela’s of the world. What Burroughs means is to assess yourself honestly and ask can you risk 27 years of imprisonment like Mandela? There’s a reason they come along once in a generation or two.

Ask yourself, in the luxury of a certain socio-economic class in a first world country, is this what you really want out of life?

And that is what I began to do — I’d love to hear from writers on their own journey but everyone at some point asks themselves this question.

To answer this, I didn’t listen to my heart. Within the framework of my spiritual philosophy, I believe it takes hard earned wisdom to do this. As per Vedanta and Buddha himself, you must separate your instincts from your intuition (thank you Professor Robert Thurman for that class!). Debate about the terminology used but basically intuition is what you should follow. It is the true heart talking. The voice from the stillness. It is You.

But most of us operate on instinct, built up from the past, from doubts and fears, from jealousy and rage, from elation and lust, in short judgement is colored, the heart sounds more like a whale song from the ocean deep.

Say you’ve convinced yourself that Path A is what you’ve wanted — at the expense of all else including financial stability, family, finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, when really any one of these factors could up your happiness quotient by 500% or more. You moan and groan about money so go get a job that makes you some, even if it’s part time. No one is twisting your arm to be a writer or any other profession that you’ve chosen if you’ve had the luxury to choose. Each day is up to you.

There’s one last key to these doors to the heart calling — again words that come from wisdom through the ages. I’m reading “Team of Rivals” about President Lincoln’s cabinet and his Attorney General, Edward Bates, consistently turned down job offers that would’ve brought him more political power because he knew he wanted to be near his wife and kids.  He was the happier man for it, in his own words (and with 17 kids, his wife was happier I’m sure). The final key that is another way of looking at instinct vs intuition is from the vocal bedrock of Western civilization himself, Socrates: know thyself.

External motivation helps as well. As Andrew Rannells said in an NPR interview, he left college to pursue Broadway because he got gigs. Success is the ultimate motivator. Success builds on itself. And if you don’t know what you want, success can sure as hell help you.

SO. WTF. I keep getting these small rewards that keep me baited: an award here, a job there, a promising meeting which keeps me floating. Until you get the avalanche of NO’s to pop that balloon.

I wanted to stare truth hard in the eyes. Get my Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke on.

Burroughs gave up his dream only to find a better path he hadn’t even considered: “I don’t feel I gave up my dream. I gave up my choice of vehicle used to deliver me to this dream.” My vehicle keeps breaking it down so I looked instead at the road I was traveling on and why I had chosen it.

I’m passionate about the Now. Politics. History. Stories. People’s unsung voices. That’s why I almost went into law and that’s why I became a writer. I had something to say about what I observed or read.  A viewpoint is critical to have for any writer of any genre.  So I upped my writing output for several magazines and online publications to increase writing, pay, and visibility. Life is good again. It also feeds into my fiction.

So what about screenwriting? I can’t hear my heart just yet, but it sounds less like a whale song.


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