I am an expert in rejection. In work, in romance, in writing, in apartment-hunting, in basically every area of my life. Before this starts to sound like a pity party, allow me to explain -- this is a good thing.
Everyone experiences rejection at some point in their lives (unless you're born into royalty. Even then, there are probably things you want but don't get, like a private home life), but writers are trained to expect it from day one of our careers. I can still remember the email my professor/mentor sent me on the morning she first referred a novel I'd written to her own editor. "Grow a thick skin," she told me. "You're going to need it."
What I did not realize, as I started down the long hard road to finding an agent and attempting to sell my writing, was how much these rejections would help me in other aspects of my life. Four years and 200+ "no thank you" letters later, I had become an expert at rolling with the punches. For example, when the agent I signed with received a negative response from an editor to a manuscript I'd just spent three months revising, my reply was "no worries, what's next?"
"I love your attitude," my agent said.
It's not that the rejection didn't sting. They always do, at least a little. It's just that by that point, I'd learned that if this opportunity didn't work out, another would come along soon. The best way to recover from disappointment was to start working on my next project instead. Fresh hope is the best medicine for a wounded spirit (and sure enough, as soon as I finished my next project, the next editor gave us that coveted yes).
It first occurred to me that this attitude could help me navigate a great deal more of my world than just writing when I was chatting with a guy friend about past OkCupid dates. I'd been on several dozen, I told him (though none of them worked out).
"Wow, that many?" he'd replied. "I couldn't even get one date on there."
Considering he was attractive, personable, smart and also not an ass (sometimes a tricky quality to find in the dating pool), I was surprised. "How many girls did you message?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Four. None of them replied so I gave up. Why, how many guys did you contact?"
I had no idea, but the number was likely more than several hundred. I didn't think about it at the time, but I'd been treating the dating process the same way I treated the quest for publication: When one person didn't respond or wasn't interested, I immediately moved on to the next. As with my writing, I knew there were an infinite number of reasons they might have said no. Maybe they recently met someone great and weren't searching for a date anymore. Maybe they'd moved out of town; maybe like me they didn't check their profile for weeks at a time; maybe they didn't think our personalities would jive; maybe they just weren't that into me. You can't let rejections like that hurt you. You have to keep putting yourself out there, and keep hoping that the next one will be different. After all, in romance as in writing, when it all boils down to it, you only need one perfect match, one yes (well, unless you're poly, but even then, one yes is the beginning).
The conversation got me thinking about all the other ways we face rejection in life. Whether it's being turned down for a dream job, losing out on a creative opportunity, a rejection letter from your first choice for college or a crush who doesn't feel the same way about you, we've all been there. Learn from it -- and I don't mean learn how to be better next time. Chances are, unless you choked in an interview or coughed soup all over your date, the rejection wasn't your fault. The match (whether professional, creative, academic or romantic) simply wasn't meant to be. Don't dwell on it, don't regret it. Just move on to the next door. Eventually one of them will be hanging wide open, and you'll find it's the door you were meant to walk through all along.