When I was in high school, things were easy. I don’t mean easy like everyone-else-type-of-easy, I mean I was the best at a lot of things, especially writing, and it felt damn good. It sounds cocky to even type that, but during that time in my life, my ego had the best of me; then in August of 2010, I was knocked off my high horse.
I enrolled at The University of Texas as an English major, and a few weeks into the semester I realized that all of these kids were the best at whatever it was they did from whatever high school they came from. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like the smartest girl in the room and damn-near had a panic attack any time classmates began discussing books and authors I’d never even heard of.
Who the hell is Walt Whitman and what kinda grass did he write about?
Only a few months ago, I was cool for having read all of Shakespeare’s work and now that was like, “Well, who hasn’t?”
It only got worse as I progressed into upper-division English classes, too. The most memorable rejection I faced in school was in my poetry workshop my sophomore year. Each person was required to submit a poem each week based on a certain topic and print out enough copies for the whole class (including the professor) so that they could write their constructive criticism and hand it back to you to make improvements as necessary. Our very first assignment was simple: submit a poem of any kind on any topic. Freshman year hurt my pride a little when it came to being well-read, but as for writing poetry, I was still pretty confident in my abilities which led to me think I could skip writing a new poem altogether and submit one I had scribbled in my journal months earlier on a whim. I turned it in on a Tuesday, got my notes back on a Thursday, and had my dreams crushed that same day. Going through the feedback was fast since it was only a class of 12. Most people said good things, a handful just pulled something out of their asses because they probably waited until an hour before class to write notes, and then there was the Professor’s note: Alyssa, Are you kidding me? That was it. That’s all it said. My heart sank all the way to my toes. It felt like I just got friend-zoned by the only thing I ever loved. Poetry didn’t love me back.
I called my mom and told her what happened because I didn’t know what else to do. Her being my biggest fan and all, she was pissed, “Well, f*ck that guy! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about”. That probably would’ve made me feel better if my prof. wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize-nominated Poet. I busted out laughing, changed the subject, and hung up after a while. I had work to do. There were 15 more poems due that semester and our grade depended on a portfolio we submitted at the end. It hurt like hell to hear that I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was, but instead of crying about it, I picked up a pen and got to work. The next few poems weren’t good either, but at least this time the prof’s notes were more detailed about why it sucked, so I took those notes and switched my style up, always trying to improve. That class taught me so much about resilience and dealing with critics and by the end of it all, I made an A. That was the hardest I had ever worked on something up to that point in my life, and it prepared me for all that was to come.
Since then, I’ve been rejected from internships, fellowships, publications and hundreds of jobs.
It’s hard to hear “no” but at the same time, it’s necessary for growth. Take those rejection slips and learn from them, ask yourself: How could I have been better? Then take that information and use it for the next opportunity. “When you know better, do better”. Whatever it is that you do, realize that all “The Greats” in your field weren’t always the best. It took dedication, focus, and willpower to move forward in spite of every “no.” It’s true, I have been rejected by a lot of things plenty of times, but by no means did I let those instances define me. I interned for a magazine, got accepted to a writer’s residency at NYU during my senior year of college, and made some money as a freelance editor. The crazy thing I did to make it happen was keep going. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m on my way there. Wherever you are on your journey, I hope you know, you got this.