It was a lovely afternoon in June, and it would go down in history as the first time someone cast a spell of disapproval over my most beloved endeavor. A mutual friend had been adamant that she and I meet, and so the three of us decided a day at the pool basking under the sun was the perfect environment for a new friendship to blossom.
We were both writers - she a little older than I and not pursuing her career actively, while my ambitions contained a level of childlike wonder I had not been in the game long enough to have shed. Writing into the wee hours had become my "normal," and I was beginning to reap a harvest from a year of plowing and planting seeds.
In the grand scheme, however, I was merely an infant trying to become a toddler. Although I was no stranger to life's occasional punch in the gut, in regard to my writing career, I was unscathed - my aspirations as delicate and fresh as a daisy.
Until that day.
As the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the rain began to fall, her tone, furrowed brow and patronizing side glances created a dark symphony of vibes which communicated her belief that I should not be granted a seat in the literary world. Truly, I was given a zoomed-lens viewing into the term "throwing shade."
Despite my usual brazenness, I did not want to create further awkwardness for our mutual friend. I was practically shoving my ego into a straight jacket, for it was eager to make a "Felicia" out of her .
The idea of un-bottling my wrath and declaring, Bon Qui Qui-style, "Excuse me? Uh, she needs to go..." was a most tempting option.
I didn't, though.
Rather, I simply bit my lip and allowed the lump in my throat to further swell. I silently wondered if her staunch disapproval (despite her own lack of success) of my work meant that my recent successes were merely a fluke and, thus, also meant I was a hopeless and untalented loser; doomed to eventual failure.
We scattered from the pool to take cover. And, much like the rain had ruined my planned afternoon of further cultivating my tan lines, she had been a monsoon storm over my sunny mood.
The following day, I vented to my husband and parents - eager to spew my venom.
Before I could unravel the story in its entirety, however, my father silenced me with words I will never forget: "If you don't develop a thicker skin, you'll never do anything that matters. Criticism and failure should do nothing but make you better."
Annnnnd... boom goes the dynamite.
I folded those golden words into my heart, tucked them tightly inside, put my big girl Huggies on and got my ass back to work.
Prepare for Shade to be Thrown (Don't Stand Under it, Though!)
Standing under the shade which was thrown over me that day proved to be a blessing. It was cold under there, and I'm not going to say I didn't shiver. However, it forced me to step my game up. I stopped crawling and learned to walk.
Such lesson forced me to realize that approval from others should be like a drizzle of hot fudge atop my already delicious sundae; It is certainly delightful but, with or without it, I'm still eating dessert.
I don't even need it.
The outcome could have been vastly different, however. Had I allowed her disbelief in me to break my gaze from the bullseye, I wouldn't have recently interviewed someone I have long admired - an icon within the fashion industry - for a magazine story. My word babies wouldn't be all over the internet and in print magazines. Most notably, I wouldn't be (now) earning a generous living doing what feels as natural and blissful to me as rolling my windows down on a lovely 75-degree weather day.
And, what a shame that would be.
Failure and Criticism Are Friends Disguised as Enemies
Failure and criticism are closely-related neighbors, and I don't view either of them the way I once did.
Had I never experienced rejection, I would not have had the pleasure of squealing in my living room the first time I received an email offering me a legitimate paid publication. That sweet feeling of victory made all of the failures which came before it worth every agonizing moment of hearing nothing but a symphony of "no" and crickets.
I've learned that failure presents us with valuable questions: It asks, "Is this something you want to continue doing? Are you willing to risk the possibility of another fall for the chance to fly?" Failure is a valuable navigation system. It is doing you a favor every time, for you learn which areas you need to water and feed and which areas are already nourished enough to be your driving forces.
It has a way of screaming the loudest when success is whistling right around the corner. Failure is merely feedback - some of which is valuable and some of which deserves nothing more than to be escorted to the door. It does not define you, though. Rather, it refines you like gold in a blazing furnace.
So, we must ask ourselves if we want to one day reflect on our lives and say, I never ruffled any feathers and I was criticized minimally. I never had to suffer the humiliation of failure, but I also never dared to do anything great.
Do you want to approach your life's expiration date with countless ideas and aspirations tucked inside of you, nearly choking you and begging to be giving life - all because you were terrified of the notion of falling on your face and being criticized?
I doubt it.
So, what matters more to you? Will you spend your days standing on the ledge of Never-never land, waiting for the net to appear? Because the truth is this: Sometimes the net will be there to catch you and sometimes it will not. Regardless, the risk of falling is the only way you will ever give yourself the opportunity to fly.
You will never accomplish anything great until you have granted yourself permission to fall on your face.
File Your Failures Under 'Favor' & Get Back to Work
Abraham Lincoln suffered a failed business venture and a nervous breakdown in the years prior to being elected as president of the United States. The script for "Back to the Future" - a film which garnered $389 million in profit in its first year of release - was rejected more than 40 times. Eric Thomas - one of the most successful motivational speakers in the world - was a high-school dropout who spent the early years of his life eating out of trashcans. Howard Schlutz, the founder of Starbucks, was rejected by banks 242 times prior to being approved for a business loan.
Are you convinced yet?
Tenacity crosses the finish line every time. The tortoise always wins the race.
Every massive business empire ever created is a result of the refusal to surrender - despite brick walls, backaches, eye-rolls, noisy critics, failed endeavors and the echoes of a seemingly endless trail of no, no, no....
So, do not rest in your rejections. Do not allow them to define you, either. Simply file your every failure in a safe place marked "favor," and get your ass back to work.