Posts Tagged 'reject rejection'

Deadman’s A-Z Guide to Living: Fear

I mulled over a lot of options while thinking about what to write about for the letter ‘F’. Faith, friends, family, fun, freedom, forgiveness, fatherhood are all topics I want to expand on at some point during this process, but in the end I chose ‘Fear’ because overcoming one’s fears is probably the single most important thing one must do to live the fullest, most productive life possible.

In small, rational amounts, fears are generally fine things, and certainly serve their evolutionary purpose, alerting us to possible threats and dangers, and preventing us from attempting feats which could prematurely end our lives.

Alas, fears don’t often come in modest doses; they prefer to go big, to expand into paralytic phobias, wiggling their way deep into our psyches, crippling us from doing things that could dramatically enrich our lives.

It’s fear that will prevent you from asking your high-school crush to the prom.

It’s fear that will keep you from majoring in theater.

Fear will have you settle for the first job offer thrown your way. Keep you stuck in your hometown.

It is why you won’t buy that stock, start that business, kiss that girl, write that novel, visit that city, join that group, forgive that enemy, fight that battle, take that leap.

It’ll convince you to avoid a confrontation and refuse a challenge, to shirk commitments and shrink from changes.

Fear is the bitter-tasting wellspring for jealousy and hate and cynicism and regret.

In the end, fear will only leave you wondering what might have been.

Overcoming one’s fears, however, is no simple task; I certainly have few answers. This is strictly a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ piece.

I mean, I know how silly most of my fears are, how freeing it would be to rid myself of them, yet they still cast a very strong shadow in my life.

I may have outgrown or pushed aside out of necessity certain of my fears, but mostly I have failed thus far to do something which I know is of utmost importance.

It’s all quite sad, and I’m sure you’ll find more useful assistance within modern psychiatry or on the shelves of your local bookstore’s self-help section. Or perhaps conquering one’s fears merely requires accessing a reservoir of inner fortitude I don’t have or haven’t yet been able to reach. I only hope you will be more successful.


Now for your amusement and education, I’ll quickly rundown a small sampling some of my more prominent fears – rating them on their intensity, rationality and impactivity (not a word I don’t think but should be) – and hopefully you’ll be able to see how destructive fears can be. Remember, this is merely a small taste of my fears, plenty more where these came from.


Intensity – Low. So ever since I can remember, I’ve always hated bugs. Could never watch nature shows about creepy things, certainly couldn’t stomach it when such creatures dared enter my childhood home, dismantling its aura of safety and security in one fell crawl. If I would see in my room a spider (they were the most prevalent threat in suburban St. Louis living), my plan was always the same: Immediately flee the scene in search of my mother or father to have them get rid of the offending creature. If neither parent were home, I would not return to the scene of the crime for many hours, at which point I would just pray that the bug had the decency to crawl to my brother’s adjoining room.

Thankfully, over time, this particular fear has dissipated. Granted, I still get the chills and make that crinkled-up face when I encounter a bug. And I still strongly believe that civilized man and creepy crawly things should keep to their own natural habitats (thus my aversion to almost all outdoorsy activities, most notably camping).

But I now have a wife of my own, who is at least as averse to creepy, crawly things as I am, and removal of such creatures now justifiably falls to me, the supposed man of the house. I generally succeed in the task, with only minimal shrieking.

Rationality – Medium. True, those creepy, crawly creatures generally mean no harm, and most couldn’t do harm even if they had the desire, but a small number can be poisonous and/or spread disease. And let’s face it, all of them are rather unhygienic.

Impact – Low. Even at the height of this fear, it was never particularly paralyzing. It did perhaps prevent me from pursuing my dreams of becoming an exterminator.


Intensity – Medium. I am still not convinced man should ever leave terra firma. I’m not a fan of the ocean, spooked out by its sheer vastness and by all the unknown, unseen things living in the blackness below (the fact I am not a strong swimmer doesn’t help), but my fear of the water pales in comparison to my fear of flying.

This fear has actually intensified over the years – I never enjoyed flying, but now I dread the days I must travel the friendly skies. For me, the worst part is takeoff, as the process of fighting gravity and achieving flight just seems totally unnatural and full of hubris to me, like it’s doomed to fail because we’re somehow disturbing nature’s laws or god’s will.

I think I’ve just seen one too many disaster flicks, but I just cannot fathom a more dreadful way of dying: Being trapped for several minutes in a plummeting, shaking vessel with nothing but the sound of screams and chaos to keep you company as you wait for the inevitable crash and the horror that will surely follow. (Well, perhaps drowning would be worse, but with some flights you have the chance of a water crash landing, making it a 2-for-1 special in worst ways to die).

Rationality – Medium. Now I know the stats that say flying is by far the safest mode of transportation, but I still believe the absolute horrific nature of what goes down in a plane crash justifies my fears on some level.

Impact – Low. So far, I’ve been able to just bear down and deal with the white knuckles. I’ve pretty much gone everywhere I’ve needed to go, including a couple of long trips to Europe and China. But with a new daughter, I sure do wish at least one set of grandparents lived within train distance!


Intensity – High. I’m pretty sure I was like most kids, completely unconcerned with my mortality. But ever since my maternal grandfather got sick some 20+ years ago, I began to be consumed by thoughts of death. Despite the fact that my paternal grandfather was the only close relative who died relatively early (mid-5os), I was convinced that I was going to die young. I think what I fear the most is the process – I don’t know what it’s going to feel like to die, but I assume there is going to be a lot of pain and suffering involved (I imagine it being like the worst flu you’ve ever had and you just don’t get better – though obviously a sudden death would be much different). I saw both my grandmothers die and it was an awful process, one that I think as a modern, evolved society we could handle a lot better. Many nights I keep myself up with thoughts of death and dying, often with me as the main subject. Unpleasant stuff, to say the least.

Rationality – Medium. You would think that this would be one of the more rational fears to have. Everyone does, in fact, die at some point. It’s likely to be quite painful. You don’t know the where or when, so there’s a disconcerting lack of control over the matter. And unless you’re a person of deep faith (in religion or science), what happens afterward is more than a little frightening to ponder. But actually, and partly because of all these reasons, death is a highly irrational thing to be afraid of – and certainly not worth wasting the precious minutes of living worrying about death often involves. It’s going to happen – you don’t know when or how but it’s likely going to suck – and you won’t know what comes next until it does, so why not appreciate your life and good health while you have them.

Impact – Medium.  Here’s the crazy thing – while the pain of death is certainly a major reason for my fear of it, at least a part of what I fear is that I will die with unfinished business and view my life as a waste of time and energy. But it’s my fear of dying, along with all of my other fears, that often prevents me from fully living. How utterly asinine.

The solution isn’t to ignore our mortality, either, which is what I find myself – and a lot of other people – doing, maybe as a kind of survival tactic (I know it’s somewhat contradictory for a person who fears death as much as I do, but even today, when I read about someone near my age who dies – an alarmingly more frequent occurrence – I feel oddly detached from the news, as if death was this surreal concept that won’t ever affect me or those closest to me). Instead, I need to respect death, come to grips with its finality, its inevitability, and its ultimate meaning, and use that understanding to better take advantage of the finite, glorious blessing that is life. Respice finem.


Intensity – High. These are actually two different fears but they’re closely related enough (and this blog is way too long already) that I’m lumping them together. Being rejected means being dismissed out of hand, without even being given the shot to prove yourself – think of the woman at the bar looking for the escape route, or the potential employer tossing the cover letter in the trash. Failing is even worse; It means you are given a chance but fall short of people’s expectations. Think of the woman several months later dumping you, or the boss firing you. In the former case, you fear people think you’re a fraud. In the latter, you know people think you’re a fraud. And in my life, both fears are omnipresent, and hugely paralyzing.

Rationality – Low. The worst part is these fears make little sense. First of all, only the rejected can give rejection its power. Who cares what other people think of us, our looks, our personality, our talents? You will never please everyone so you shouldn’t take rejection personally. Dismiss it. Scoff at it. Reject rejection. And as far as failure is concerned, it’s virtually a prerequisite for success. I defy you to find a successful person who hasn’t been waylaid by a significant failure at one point in their lives. The only trick is not letting failure stop you, which is, of course, a trick much easier said than done.

Impact – High. No fears have done more damage to me than these two. And while I won’t ever know the full extent of the opportunities that I may have lost because I was too afraid of rejection and/or failure, I do strongly believe I never reached my full potential because of these fears. In the words of the Rev. Sydney Smith: “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage.”

The Secret of Success …

OK, I’m about to reveal – at no charge to you – the secret of success, in all aspects of life.

Pay close attention … No, that’s not the secret, I’m just letting you know you should pay attention because I’m about to reveal the secret.

You ready??? You sure?? Are you sitting down?? Notebook in hand???

Ok, ok, alright already, here it is (commence drum roll)….

————->>>>>> REJECT REJECTION <<<<<<————-

Oh, I know. It’s not that impressive. It’s trite. And it’s fairly obvious, so calling it a secret is a bit of a stretch. Probably that exact phrase has already even been used in some 7-step, self-help book (I purposefully didn’t Google it, cuz I didn’t want to be dissuaded from writing this piece). If I were to be completely forthright, there are probably other, just as important keys to finding success in life – Do What You Love, Practice Often, Floss, Take Vitamins, Don’t Waste Hours and Hours of Your Time on Facebook Games, etc. etc.

But I’m interested in making this as simple as possible, so we’re shrinking the playbook, focusing on the core. And as simple as Reject Rejection may sound, trust me, it’s a bitch of a mantra to truly absorb. (At first I was thinking of writing it as Don’t Fear Rejection, or Embrace Rejection, but there’s just something catchy and catch-22y about Reject Rejection)

The reason rejecting rejection is such a surprisingly tricky thing to accomplish is simple: We all inherently care about what people think of us, and of our work.

We seek affirmation, and feel lonely and dejected when we don’t get it. Those are very tough emotions to let go of or ignore. I know I haven’t yet learned how to do it, and it is very likely I won’t be following my own advice anytime soon. But if you want to be successful, you should do what I say, and not what I do.

I first began obsessing over this philosophy last fall when I was finishing up a Gotham writing class, and the teacher was giving out his final pearls of wisdom before sending us on our way. The one thing he kept harping on was how often we were going to be rejected if we planned on pursuing writing for a career.

He in fact highly encouraged us not to send in samples of our work to literary magazines, editors or agents unless we were damn sure we were ready for the torrent of form rejection letters that would be hurled at us like so many poisoned darts. He kept going on and on … You will be rejected. A LOT. Be prepared … I had really liked our teacher up to that point, but he was beginning to piss me off.

Look, it’s highly probable there weren’t any undiscovered Hemingways in that class (well, maybe some Mariels, but no Ernests!). We had all shared our writing with each other and none of us were that good. Some of the folks were barely literate. But who the fuck cares? We are told so often in our lives to be careful, and to be prudent, reminded about the long odds, and the need for fallback plans. What if we just went for it, and never stopped until we came to the end? If we didn’t care about being rejected, if we rejected the concept of rejection, then failure literally wouldn’t be an option, and wouldn’t that be a thrilling way to live …

Later that same week, I read Neurotick’s humorous post about his problems meeting women, and it made me realize that a fear of rejection can have rather crippling effects on our personal lives as well as our professional ones. I can’t begin to think about all the times I’ve seen a pretty girl in the street, or at a bar, maybe even noticed some flirty eye contact or smile flashed in my direction, and yet lacked the nerve to make a move, letting the opportunity pass … all because I was afraid of being rejected. Again, why the fuck did I care? So what if I got rejected???? I wasn’t likely ever going to see this person again – the only thing I had to be afraid of was my foolish, illogical pride.

And fear of rejection doesn’t just get in the way of pursuing a career or finding a woman. It affects almost every decision we make.

On some level, of course, this makes sense as we are often only rewarded, monetarily or otherwise, when people approve of us or something we’ve done. But as I see it, rejecting – rather than fearing – rejection is ultimately a much more fruitful strategy for two main reasons.

1) Confidence sells.

Whether we’re talking about flirting or job interviewing, there is no question that people respond well to confidence, even if it’s misplaced. I may think a guy who goes over to a random woman and puts the make on her is annoying and overly cocky, but I’ve seen that approach work time and time again. One of my friends told me he had this college roommate who would hit on anybody. He’d be rejected A LOT, but he didn’t take it personally and he also usually had a date.  When you reject rejection and look like you truly don’t care whether someone accepts what you’re selling or not – like you’re doing them a favor by offering it in the first place – you will get more favorable responses. Bank on it.

2) There’s no accounting for taste.

Look, the crappy Independence Day did over $800 million in sales worldwide, while the brilliant Arrested Development got canceled after 53 episodes.

Genghis doesn’t like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but has no problem dressing up in an outfit that looks like a Tropicana factory exploded on a Liberace-designed robot.

Some women like men with hard bodies, a full head of hair, and classically handsome facial features; thankfully, some like scrawny men, with scraggly beards and thinning scalps, and large Semitic noses.

The point is, you will never EVER please everyone, so why get upset if one person, or dozens of people, decide they don’t like you or what you’ve done. Examples abound of incredible artists who died penniless and mostly anonymous because their work wasn’t appropriately recognized in their lifetimes. What if Walt Whitman had stopped writing poetry when critics panned his Leaves of Grass anthology? Or if Van Gogh had stopped painting when his first efforts disappointed family and critics alike?

And who cares if all those people rejecting you are right anyway? That you suck, and you’re ugly, and will never amount to anything? As far as can be determined, we only get one shot at this living thing, and I can assure you that more people will respect you for following your heart and shooting for the stars than for hiding in a corner and watching the parade pass you by. Not that other people’s opinions matter anyway. Remember, if you reject rejection, then the only ones who can fail are the ones who don’t accept you.

So there it is. My secret to success in all aspects of life: Reject rejection.

Use it to your own advantage, or don’t. I couldn’t care less. (Ahhhh, if only that were so …)

July 2016
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