Rejection Letters: A Personal History

Wherever this finds you, I hope that you are well and taking care during this difficult time. This week, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to be a teacher when there is no classroom, as well as how we each find ways as humans to take care of ourselves and be good to each other. I hope to share more about those reflections in the weeks to come, but I want to give myself space to articulate those thoughts in full. Right now, I want to stick with thoughts I’ve been considering for weeks, in an effort to preserve some kind of normalcy in the present moment. Hopefully it helps you in some way.

I feel like I’ve been thinking about rejection for my entire life. The ways that rejection from peers in grade school bred fear and mistrust into my core, the ways that I have worked to root out those poisons from my person and relationships. The ways that older generations criticize the millennial generation for being coddled through participation trophies, as if we do not face frequent and course-altering rejections from an increasingly unstable job market that offers no guarantees, as we were told while we earned multiple degrees and sunk ourselves into college loan debt.

The fear of rejection has led me to avoid various risks in my life, some I regret and some I am thankful to have dodged. As a writer, rejection is a constant source of anxiety for me, even as it’s an expected part of eventually being published. I studied writing in my undergraduate program, where a professor asked, toward the end of my time there, if I was going to apply to an MFA in creative writing. Paralyzed by the thought of rejection, I just told him that I was considering my options. He encouraged me to do so quickly, as deadlines were approaching, but I did not know how to tell him that I was too insecure at the time to try, that I had not seriously looked into anything.