Raise your hand if you’ve ever been rejected.
Raise your hand if you’ve spent longer than you care to admit searching out every possible reason as to why this could have happened, as to what you could have done differently, as to what could have gone so utterly wrong that you now have to stare down at this outcome with so much potential to control you.
Not that you don’t know your own worth, that you don’t know what your dreams are, and that setbacks like these are character-building markers of resilience to adorn your inner memoir, and of course, it might take a while, but you’ll get there in the end. Definitely. After all, this is your life, the one you’ve imagined and embellished and invested in for as long as you could think for yourself. No, you know all those things.
But this time, you failed. For whatever reason out of the thousands running through your mind, it wasn’t enough.
Now raise your hand if, instead of the highly motivated (perfectly soundtracked) movie montage sequence of events that should have followed, inevitably leading to your triumph over the evils of fate and prompting the delivery of an ultimate inner resilience monologue prepared to an imaginary audience, you felt pain. When your core twists into something so inexpressibly empty you recoil at the thought you could feel anything so awful.
All too quickly, there you are typing “motivational quotes” into Google, scrolling through Goodreads for a writer—one much more eloquent than you, of course—that understands. You laugh at the Internet articles that tell you to curl up and watch something on Netflix, you roll your eyes at the increasingly cringeworthy sentiments you come across on Pinterest. Sometimes you text a friend. Or you sit in your room, listening to songs that you haven’t played in a year and nodding along to lines which are suddenly all too relevant. When you push your laptop aside after watching your seventh TED talk, you’re still you.
So why couldn’t they understand? Why couldn’t they see how much you needed this, how much you would have given? Why weren’t you enough?
In a flash, you’re ten years down the line, and everything’s turned out wrong. Where is the job you would have loved? Where is the person standing by your side to exchange glances with at the scene around you? Where are the letters from old friends, the mismatched frames on hall dressers and old pictures stuffed into boxes to soothe your creeping uneasiness at growing older? Panic strikes as you wonder just how on Earth you’re going to claw that future back when you’re not in control. Suddenly, this one moment which you would have been quite happy to shove to the back of your mind has power.
“Try, try again.” “Strength of character.” “What’s for you won’t go by you.” And of course, the ultimate panic inducer: “Don’t worry.”
As if you could control the fear running through you. As if the world owes you something, when the reality hitting you now is the uncomfortable opposite you’ve always managed to ignore. The uneasy feeling that the person saying so earnestly, so confidently not to worry, just cannot see what you do. The worse feeling of knowing that so often, you’ve offered the same words.
We all have to fail sometimes, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
What I want to do, though, is learn. I want to balance my fear with my hopes. I want to be practical about what I need without giving up on what will fulfill me. I want to believe that my best is the only thing that is enough, not for the world, but for me. The world might reject my best, but I don’t have to. I can stare it down, pick it up, let it go, hold onto it, whatever. It’s mine. You can’t see how you’re going to change, how others will change, or what’s going to happen on Tuesday, but you can do your best in that moment, and no matter how you’ve been rejected, that will always belong to you.
Although, disclaimer, I might change my mind on Tuesday.