Posts Tagged ‘Overcoming rejection’
There are some days, I admit, when I see little except for a gray existence ahead for me. At 67, I wonder if I will ever fulfill my life’s dream to become a published author. I fear that I will never find security in my old age. The aches and creaks of age wear me down. And I fall into “stinking thinking” that I’ll never find my way back up again.
None of this lasts for long. I don’t let it.
I can’t waste time on negative feelings. Rather, I have to use the next years of my life to accomplish as much as I can.
We all have our gray days. As we get older, we may feel age has caught up with us and overtaken our dreams to achieve what we set out to do. Maybe there isn’t enough time left, or we’re just too old, physically unable, mentally unwilling, or tired.
On the other hand, if we’re interested in the world and passionate about certain subjects, then we can still accomplish what we set out to do.
History and the arts are full of men and women who made surprising comebacks, achieved greatness, or who revived/had prominent careers at an age when most would have given up. And there must be a myriad of other less known or unrecorded cases.
“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in.”
Winston Churchill, after an up and down career, and ten years as a political pariah or, as he put it, “Out in the wilderness” during the 1930s, returned at 66 to serve as a wartime Prime Minister in 1940. His leadership and great speeches helped inspire the nation’s morale against the would-be Nazi invaders that were pummeling the cities and coast of England. He told the people of England, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.”
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist in white dominated South Africa, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1962 and served 27 years, 18 as a classification D prisoner – the lowest scale – in the notorious Robben Island Prison. Released in 1990, he returned to lead his party in negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. He was 72 when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected South African president in 1994.
“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”
Golda Meir came to the U.S. from Russia at the age of 8, and was brought up in Milwaukee, WI. In 1921, she emigrated to Palestine where she worked on a kibbutz and as a teacher before moving up in the political ranks. At 71, she became Prime Minister of the State of Israel in March, 1979. The world’s third woman to be head of state (after Shri Lanka and India), she was portrayed as the “strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.”
“I made a resolve that I was going to amount to something if I could.”
Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65 after his restaurant folded and because his pension was so small; after two years, he went on to wild success. A Kentucky Colonel (in-name military designation only), he gave the chain an image by dressing up in that all-white southern gentleman garb.
“Painting’s not important. The important thing is keeping busy.”
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) didn’t begin to paint until the age of 76, when her hands became too crippled by arthritis to hold an embroidery needle and she found herself with nothing to do. She’s usually cited for succeeding for the first time at her art work in her nineties and up to her death at 101.Her paintings were shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as in museums in Vienna and Paris.
“I never had a great role in a great film.”
Gloria Stuart, a movie actress in the 1930s, returned from obscurity at 86 when she landed the role of 100-year-old Rose in James Cameron’s “Titanic.” She remains the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar. The above quote must have been before “Titanic.”
“You cannot just waste time. Otherwise you’ll die to regret …”
Harriett Doerr finished her Stanford degree at 67. In 1983, at 73, she became a darling of the literary world with the publication of her first novel, “Stones for Ibarra,” which went on to win a National Book Award.
“If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book. God knows what other potentials lurk in other people who keep going into old age.”
Harry Bernstein published a short story when he was 24, in 1934, but it was not until he was 96 that his well-received debut novel, “The Invisible Wall” was published. Bernstein turned to fiction only after his wife of 67 years died, as therapy for his loss and loneliness. He published two more books after his debut.
“If I had known at the beginning of my life that this is where I would get to, I would have said, “Not possible.”
Jessica Tandy, a well-respected actress came out of a career slump in the mid 1980s to a career revival in her seventies when she won both a Tony Award and an Emmy Award for her role in “Foxfire.” She became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.
There are many other such stories of late life success that I’d have liked to include but then I’d have to write an e-book about them. It’s a fascinating subject – what drove these men and women to not give up despite rejection, imprisonment, lack of education or opportunity, sexism, ageism, defeat … you name it.
Do you know of someone who “made it” late in life, particularly after overcoming problems, losses, rejection, or other setbacks?
If you do, please share their stories with us.
Is it taking you years to achieve your goal?
Or much longer than you envisioned when you started out.
Only a few of us ever make it on our first try, and many, not even on our second, third, fourth or more attempts.
So how long should we keep going before giving up?
It depends on how much we believe in our dreams and goals, and wanting them badly enough to battle for them. It depends on our determination and perseverance.
It depends on treating every setback as another learning experience rather than as another defeat.
And ultimately, it depends on never losing sight of what we want to achieve.
The Spider That Wouldn’t Give Up.
The quote, “Try, try, and try again,” comes from a legend about the 14th century King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, and a spider.
After Robert the Bruce was defeated for the sixth time by the King of England, he fled and hid in a cave. He lay there, ready to give up all hope, when a spider caught his eye. It was hanging by a long silvery thread from one of the wooden beams above his head, and trying to swing itself to another beam. It tried again and again, failing each time. Six times.
Robert thought, “I too have failed six times in my fight for Scotland. But if this spider succeeds the next time, I will try once more to regain my kingdom.”
The spider swung again – and on its seventh attempt, it succeeded.
Robert the Bruce threw off his despair and went on to battle the English and eventually, won at the Battle of Bannockburn.
He regained his kingdom – all because of one spider that wouldn’t give up.
This story’s premise holds true in almost any battle in our lives. Robert the Bruce’s success followed a series of failures. The same can happen to any of us – if we’re willing to try again and again and have the courage to look beyond failure.
My own story is not a success story – yet.
“There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream.” ~Author Unknown
Youthful dreams vs. adult reality
I wrote my first, full-length novel – 240 typed double spaced pages – when I was 12. And rewrote it twice. I dreamed of the day when I’d become a famous writer.
At 14, I wrote my second novel. It was “considered” by MacMillan but rejected because a book written by a young adult would not find an audience. Years later, “Eragon” written by 16 year old Christopher Paolini would become both a bestseller and a hit movie.
I wrote my third novel at 16. I still hope to get it published – some day.
When I was 22, I started another book, but gave it up to travel around Europe. Several years later, a published friend showed the first chapters to his agent at William Morris. I received a note saying it was magnificent, and to clean it up and send him the rest.
This happened one week before I was married, two weeks before I started a new job, and a month before my three-year old started pre-school.
Instead, I shoved my manuscript into a box in a closet where it remained for the next quarter century.
The long road to nowhere.
In my early fifties, I pulled out the yellowed pages of my unfinished manuscript from its box. I’d revive my “magnificent” book and this time, it would be published. I wrote a whole new draft in four months on a manual typewriter. Once more, I dreamed mt childhood dream and that my novel would become a blockbuster.
My “blockbuster” required tons of research, dedication, brushing up on craft, and editing with a read and critique group. I spent five years working on it – ten drafts – until it was in good enough shape, I thought, to look for an agent. Rejection letters piled up, including from the same agent who had loved it years before.
Reality set in. So the book went back into the closet.
In the next years, I wrote three more books. I received the best rejection letters (one, two-pages handwritten) ever, but no takers, for one of my non-fiction books.
The computer age had changed everything. More people than ever were writing books. Agents, inundated with query letters, seldom had time for unknown authors. You had to go to a conference to meet them. And publishers were accepting fewer books.
In the decade of 2000, the publishing world experienced a radical change.
The way I’d hoped/expected to be published, the traditional route, seemed barred for me.
I’d missed the boat. Time to give up.
There’s still a way – just not the way I envisioned
Then I thought about all the people who had encouraged me and believed in me over the years. All the work and the sacrifices I’d made to become a good writer.
I thought about my father who, when he died, left an attic full of finished manuscripts.
No, I couldn’t give up. Or better said, I’d come too far to give up.
So I’m still at it, as anyone reading this blog can see. I’m learning as much as I can about this, for me, daunting new world of Social Media, and focusing on my non-fiction book, “Don’t Hang Up!”
And what about that all important novel?
I’ll be damned if I let it wither again on my closet shelf again.
If I don’t lose sight of my goal, it will find a publisher. Of that, I am certain.
“My story, like so many others, has numerous turning points. An artist by nature, growing up in the middle class America of the ’50′s and early ’60′s, it was drummed into me that “artists starve.” That meant there were only select careers available to me as a woman…teacher, nurse or nurse/stewardess, secretary.
I tried to break the glass ceiling by majoring in TV production in college in Los Angeles, but the unions were all male. No chance.
Out of my choices, I took secretary. Did pretty good at it, too. Took the “pleaser personality” to its highest and for 35 years was an outstanding executive assistant to many CEO’s, CFO’s, Presidents, VP’s, etc.
Imagine my surprise when, in my 50’s, after an interesting detour into urban farming and farm stand ownership for about 10 years, I went back to find a “real” job as an executive assistant and found I was “overqualified” in every case. Probably 500++ job applications and interviews. Interesting.
Trolling the landscape for something that might pay the mortgage, I discovered that “mature” women were respected and valued in the real estate business. So, I invested the time and effort in a real estate license right around the turn of the millennium.
Things went well – for a while. Could’ve been better if I hadn’t married that abusive husband who managed to spend all the money I earned and defeat every success I set up to create. Divesting him cost me everything I had. Financial ruin. Leaving behind all the contacts, the network and everything it takes to promote the real estate business.
Start all over. Well, at least I had achieved my Broker’s license. But, oops, that was just about the time that the real estate market in San Diego started to stall and no matter how many lead generators I subscribed to or how many cold calls I made every day, I just couldn’t get revved up again. And, by that time the previous years of real estate boom had inundated the market with agents – you couldn’t open your car door without smacking a real estate agent.
The competition was vicious.
Still sticking in there, I opened up my territory to the entire San Diego, L.A. and high desert areas in an attempt to maximize the possibilities. Then came the blackest. The big dump. The market changed radically. Short sales, REO’s, foreclosures became the order of the day. Big banks, “settlement” companies, and unscrupulous agents took over the market. (The stories I could tell!)
So, here I am, back at a turning point. Wonder where I’ll go next??? Hmmmmm.”
Do you have a story of your own to tell about career loss, turning points and making new starts?
Losing your job in mid life, especially a good position that you have held for years, can be devastating or to quote President Obama, “Leave you reeling in shock or depression.”
For a while, you need a time to mourn, to shake off your confusion, bewilderment, resentment and/or anger. After all, you have lost an important part of your life.
Then, it is time to move on. At this point, you can follow several paths:
1. Start a job search. Don’t expect to find other work at the same pay or status level as the one you lost. Be prepared to bow your head and accept job offers that you previously would have turned down.
At first, I was too proud to accept my fall from grace and not willing to bow my head to anyone. Several years later, humbled by my circumstances, when I went hat in hand to look for work, it was too late. Nobody wanted me anymore. I was yesterday’s has-been.
So don’t set your sights too high and do seek opportunities further down the scale.
2. Turn your hobby/interest into a business. Many of us are tempted to start our own business based on our hobby, skills, or interest.
Watch out. This path can be tough and littered with unforeseen pitfalls.
I loved to cook, sometimes for dozens of people, and I also had some Cordon Bleu training. Well-meaning friends encouraged me to open a restaurant, and I fell for their praise and heeded their advice. A former advertising-marketing executive, I thought I knew it all, and invested my considerable severance into my own restaurant and catering business. What I overlooked was that I had no restaurant experience or training, and just being a good cook, marketing savvy, and knowing lots of people weren’t the right credentials.
Everything about my restaurant was perfect – the décor, the food, the service, the location.
What could go wrong?
What went wrong was Me.
I knew zilch about restaurant management. Hired an out-of-work friend who knew even less than I did as assistant manager. Sold gourmet food at ridiculously low prices, thus making deep cuts into my profit margin. Overestimated consumption that resulted in left over/wasted food. My locale was too small to service all my eager customers. No parking. Costly permits. Shall I go on?
3. Follow your dream. How about writing that book you always wanted to write? Or painting those pictures? Taking those photographs? Opening an antique store or art gallery?
Dream career paths can be risky and uncertain. It takes time, persistence, a tough skin, and another means of support. Think in terms of the would-be actor who, while waiting for his/her big break, often holds down a menial day job such as waiting tables or painting houses.
I fell into this trap. For years, I toiled away at a book that I knew would make me rich and famous while working at a series of low-paid jobs for a living. My synopsis got me through the first gatekeepers and my manuscript read by big agents only to be told that I needed “line editing” and I was “a talented writer who showed promise.” I put the manuscript in the closet and went to work on starting a new career.
4. Make a new start in a new career. This may be the best way to go. What other skills do you have? Why not train for/study a new career? If I’d taken the time to study restaurant management, my restaurant might still be a going concern.
To coin a cliché, think outside the box. There are opportunities for other jobs that may not be in the same field as the one you held before, but are related. For example, I know of several former ad agency executives, including myself, who made a new start in market research.
Remember, who says you’re washed up, that it’s the end of the road for you? You don’t have to accept that. When you lose everything, there’s only one way to go: Up again. It’s a matter of perspective how you handle this turn about in fortunes. Most importantly, since you have nothing to lose, you can only gain.
Summon back the energy and gunghoism that led you to the summit before and harness them to take on new challenges.
OMG, should I lie?
I shot back, “I’m sixty. Is that a problem?”
My agent is younger than my children, and I wanted to fit in.
I considered emergency plastic surgery—a facelift? Liposuction? A chin implant?
After I calmed down, I realized I needed to be exactly where I was in life to write the book I wrote. I had panicked because, frankly, I’m shocked to be over sixty. I feel like I’m thirty-five, only smarter. For forty years I wrote and collected rejections—and I have the emotional hide of an armadillo to prove it—but I also lived.
I’ve had jobs, marriages, lovers, friends, children and grandchildren. I’ve traveled and lived in on two continents. I’ve survived divorce, single parenthood, life-threatening illness, and even teenagers. And through all those heaving life experiences, I wrote and wrote without ever publishing a word.
By fifty-five I had an epic collection of rejection letters, but I couldn’t stop writing. I needed to write. At fifty-six, I finished my third novel, and I remember the surge of elation when that book caught the attention of a reputable agent who said, “This is a gold mine.” It was finally happening!
Then it didn’t.
After six houses rejected it, my book was dead and I couldn’t get another agent. One black day, I accepted that my work would never be published. It was crushing, and I spent weeks wallowing in the tragedy of my crucified ego.
On my 60th birthday, I sulked on the sofa in rumpled pajamas and ate cold pizza. Then I got angry. By following the rules, I’d given away control of my destiny, and those I gave it to shrugged and gave it back.
Fine. I’d do it myself. I’d take the humble route of self-publishing, because I thought just holding my book in my hands would be enough. I risked money, went through endless edits, and risked more money. Finally, my literary baby made its debut to a shrieking silence and a riot of apathy.
Friends and family bought a few copies, and the book languished on Amazon. That’s when I understood that it wasn’t only about holding a book but knowing that other people, even strangers, were reading it. Damn!
One night, slumped in front of the TV, watching a glitzy book launch party on Sex and the City, I got an idea.
I gambled on a do-it-yourself website, spent thousands on an Internet marketing course, and threw a virtual book launch party. It would be designed to generate a surge of sales on Amazon and catapult me onto the bestseller list. But I needed to reach 500,000 people to make a few hundred sales. I don’t know 500,000 people; I needed partners.
I brazenly asked droves of website owners to participate in my promotion. I sent letters, homemade cookies, and signed books marked on the page where those cookies appear in the novel. The cookies are called bones of the dead and so, with an aching back, I spent long days at kitchen counter, shaping bone cookies —fifteen hundred of them.
I blogged and talked up my book on message boards. I got a few Internet partners, baked more cookies, begged, pleaded, flattered, cajoled, bargained and got more partners. In the end, I had enough support to reach 500,000 people. Yes! I would hit the Amazon bestseller list.
Two days before my virtual party, my son said, “Mom, why not invite agents to your party?” Well, that would be a ballsy move indeed, but I figured I had nothing to lose. The night before the launch, I wrote personal invitations with a link to the party site to 400 agents.
By noon the next day, agents were clamoring to read my book. An editor from a major house flat out offered me a hardcover deal via e-mail. Agents asked me to overnight books to New York. Within 24 hours, I had offers from several impressive agencies—including William Morris, with whom I made an agreement at whiplash speed.
I did hit the Amazon bestseller list. Not that it mattered anymore.
It seemed all of New York was talking about The Book of Unholy Mischief, and two weeks after my virtual party, my book went to auction. Bidding was due to start at 11:00 a.m. EST, but at 8:00 a.m. my phone rang. My agent said, “Are you sitting down?” I said yes, though I wasn’t. She said, “Two book deal, Simon and Schuster.” Then I sat down.
In the following heady days, the foreign sales started. It was a global feeding frenzy. As of this writing The Book of Unholy Mischief will be published in a dozen languages.
The Book of Unholy Mischief was released in December 2008 in the United States and Canada. I went on a national book tour, then to Venice for the Italian launch, and on to London to meet my UK publisher and editor. It was every writer’s dream.
In all the excitement, I remembered a famous quote from Winston Churchill—With the sky over London littered with falling bombs and the city in rubble, the sixty-eight year old Churchill growled, “Never, never, never, never give up.”
I didn’t give up. That’s really all I did. I spent my life pursuing what I love, and every word I wrote was necessary to find my voice. And I honestly believe success is better later than earlier. Can you think of anything more depressing than peaking at the age of 25? Then what? Also, I feel profound gratitude that I probably wasn’t capable of twenty or thirty years ago. No question about it, being older makes it sweeter.
But here’s the ironic part: Now that I’m published, I see that the deepest satisfaction is in the writing itself. The greatest joy is not having other people reading my book; the greatest joy was writing it. Real success is finding something you love, and then doing it.
The Book of Unholy Mischief is a national bestseller, and my new book, The Sandalwood Tree, will be released early 2011 to an audience already waiting for it. And then I get to write another. Thankfully, I’m old enough to appreciate the hell out of that.
Read more about Elle Newmark and The Book of Unholy Mischief at www.ellenewmark.com/
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