How did you survive Thanksgiving? I ate way, way too much and loved every minute of it. Then I cooked an enormous pot of turkey soup based off of this recipe and over-ate for another two days. I love the holidays.
But now that we’re in the slight reprieve between Thanksgiving and Christmas, let’s tackle a big subject: rejection.
Rejection is an inevitable part of the creative life (and of regular old life, too), but most of the time we focus our energy on trying to avoid rejection, rather than expecting it and building resilience to it.
Let’s turn that around. Because if I’ve seen one thing in my years in the publishing industry, both as an editor and a literary agent, it’s that rejection is part of the job.
So then, our work as people who are engaged in the business of art, is to make peace with rejection. It’s not a bonus skill that will help you get ahead; it is the way ahead.
We’ve talked before about how every single person in the publishing industry gets rejected by one person or another–authors get rejected by agents and publishers; agents get rejected by editors; editors get rejected by acquisitions committees; publicists get rejected by producers.
And we’ve also talked about what to do in those moments and days right after a particularly tough rejection rolls in. But what can we do to steel ourselves against these blows to our souls? How can we dig and then fill a deep well of resilience that allows us to withstand rejection?
Well, the answer, as always, lies in BOOKS. Books are the repository of all human wisdom and knowledge, and you can bet you’re not the first or the last person in history to get kicked about in this particular way. Books also allow us to design our own self-guided studies of any topic known to mankind, and then to spend a good many afternoons on the couch, having our minds blown right open.
That is and will always be the most deeply important thing to me about books. The wisest and most expert minds in the world wring every last drop of their knowledge into a book and sell it for $19.99. If that’s not the best thing about our society (and a really nice deal to boot), then ship me off to the moon because I know nothing.
(Oh, and if you went a little too hard on Cyber Monday and don’t want to drop a few $20s on a few books, may I remind you about libraries? Libraries are the world’s collective knowledge and experiences, assembled over millennia, available to every last person for the price of $0.00. Show me a better deal anywhere this season.)
So this December, let’s hunker down with a self-guided study on rejection, so that we can be fierce and stubborn and relentless rejection warriors in 2017.
I truly believe a rejection study is an essential part of any writer’s self-education.
Only by being in a civil working relationship with rejection will we be able to look it in the eye around the water cooler, roll our eyes at its same old complaints and lies, and huff a little despondently as we walk back to our desk and get to work. Sorry, rejection, we have work to do, and we’re not going to sit around all day whining about how things could have been. Try someone else.
Now let’s get to work and buy or borrow our way to a stack of books that will show us how to build resilience in the face of rejection.
These are the books I would recommend as a start, but as with any self-guided study, only you know how you learn best. If you prefer a more kick-in-the-pants approach, find some authors who will shake you up a little. If you like to supplement with audio and visual learning, search out a few podcasts or video courses on the topic. But I do recommend getting one or two books—books have the incomparable advantage of living in your home, patiently waiting to be pulled down when you need a moment of counsel with them. (They make great home decor, too!)
(By the way, I only recommend books I’ve read or that I’m genuinely excited about reading myself. Life’s too short to read mediocre books. But if you do feel like picking up one of these, it’d be great if you bought them through one of the Amazon Associate links below. It supports the many hours of work this team of two [me and Jarrett] put into this little corner of the web!)
Think you’re down and out? Jiang put himself (voluntarily!) through an experiment to seek out rejection for 100 days. This boot-camp approach helped him deflate the dread of putting himself out there, conquer his feelings of self-doubt, and build him back up so he could dare to live more boldly.
From the back cover:
“Jia Jiang came to the United States with the dream of being the next Bill Gates. But despite early success in the corporate world, his first attempt to pursue his entrepreneurial dream ended in rejection. Jia was crushed, and spiraled into a period of deep self doubt. But he realized that his fear of rejection was a bigger obstacle than any single rejection would ever be, and he needed to find a way to cope with being told no without letting it destroy him. Thus was born his ‘100 days of rejection’ experiment, during which he willfully sought rejection on a daily basis–from requesting a lesson in sales from a car salesman (no) to asking a flight attendant if he could make an announcement on the loud speaker (yes) to his famous request to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the shape of Olympic rings (yes, with a viral video to prove it).
Jia learned … techniques for steeling himself against rejection and ways to develop his own confidence–a plan that can’t be derailed by a single setback. Filled with great stories and valuable insight, Rejection Proof is a fun and thoughtful examination of how to overcome fear and dare to live more boldly.”
Already a classic—if you read only one book on this list, make it this one.
From the back cover:
“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.
Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.”
Want to tackle rejection from the angle of the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism? Try this one.
From the back cover:
“The book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher. As Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Ryan Holiday shows us how some of the most successful people in history—from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs—have applied stoicism to overcome difficult or even impossible situations. Their embrace of these principles ultimately mattered more than their natural intelligence, talents, or luck.”
If you’re going to get kicked around by life (and we all will), you’ll need a bit of grit to get back up. This instant New York Times bestseller has gotten so much attention and praise because of its research-backed look at this new concept of “grit”—the combination of passion and perseverance. It shares dozens of stories of rock-bottom moments in the lives of high-achievers and how they pulled themselves out of the mire of disappointment.
From the back cover:
“Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.
Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.”
This book will give you the kick-in-the-pants you need to move on from the tortured artist stereotype and bring some serious delight back into your creative life. If lately your work is feeling like a slog rather than a source of energy, get plugged in to this book STAT!
From the back cover:
“Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.
Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the ‘strange jewels’ that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”
What I’m Reading This Week
Maya Angelou on How a Library Saved Her Life (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This beautiful piece on the magic of libraries is right on point for this week! I especially loved the quotes Popova started the article off with: “’You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,’” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians. “’Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom,’” Ursula K. Le Guin asserted in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries.”
The FLASH Drives (Seth Godin): “Fear, loneliness, anger, shame & hunger. They drive us. They divide us. They take us away from our work, our mission, our ability to make a difference. And yet, sometimes, they fuel our motion, leading to growth and connection.” (This backs up my long-standing belief that we can’t get anything good done when we’re hungry. So get something to eat!)
Bookish Gifts Under $20 (Kelly Jensen): Once you’ve stacked a pile of books under the tree, you’ll need some accessories for stocking stuffers right? 😉
The Kitchn Holiday Gift Guide (The Kitchn): Not sure what to buy your favorite cook? Start with this very-cute, very-practical flowchart (which also leads to some extremely fantastic cookbook recommendations!).
How to Write a Great Story: A Roundup of Best Advice (Jane Friedman): All the storytelling goodness you need in one place. Bookmark this one and come back to it whenever you have a little pocket of time in your day!
What We’re Eating This Week
Finally, a normal week again! I spent our 8-hour Sunday drive from Ann Arbor to Alexandria thinking about what we’d eat this week. Here’s what I came up with with an iPhone, a lot of time, and a desperate need for more vegetables.
Monday: A giant chopped salad based off the chopped salad I always order at Mario Batali’s Otto in NYC. Because if I’m going to be good and eat salad, there better be salami in it.
Tuesday: Penne with prosciutto, asparagus, and kale, adapted from my favorite Italian cookbook (which is written in Italian and now out of print, or I’d share it with you all!).
Wednesday: This recipe for cauliflower steaks, but with leftover pesto instead of the lemon herb sauce. And a side of Rich Lemon Rice from Viana La Place’s classic cookbook Unplugged. (Yes, I’ll share this recipe with you all soon–it’s so, so good!)
Thursday: This Serious Eats recipe for One-Pan Chicken, Sausage, and Brussels Sprouts. Plus adding cabbage to the pan. I’m telling you, I went into a deep vegetable deficit over the holiday.
Friday: Derek Brown’s Miracle on Seventh Street Christmas bar with friends. Cannot wait.