I got a rejection letter yesterday. The first thought in my head while reading it was a small, brilliant spark of excitement. This was a project I was very excited about and put several weeks of work to get right. It would launch me into new directions, turning my creativity instead of my technical skills into a living.
Sadly, I had two strikes against me going into this project. Thinking of those two strikes, I began to feel despair. The first was the project used an application I love that most people don’t know about in a world of heavy hitters in that genre. The second was my own skill level. While many of my friends tell me I’m good at that skill, I’ve always doubted I’m as good as they think. I try to say to myself its just impostor syndrome, but I know better in this case. My skills were in question, and the people who judged the project were not impressed enough.
I was sad, not for the loss of the project but the loss of the trajectory that the project was part of. Most of what I do for a living is tech-related. I want more out of my work life than tech. I’ve been at it for a very long time. I wanted to go into something I have never done for money before, something completely new, something that could change everything.
The rejection letter did change everything — and in a positive way. Thinking about it, I know more about what that bright spark was when I first read the message. On my desk is a strange-looking stuffed animal, who is there for just such occasions. He’s red, and the shape of an eel with little crown-shaped dorsal fins. He looks perpetually angry with a spiky brow ridge and for pointy teeth protruding from the for corners of his square jaw. His name is Gyarados, and he is a pokemon. He’s one of the critters that make up the pokemon games, such as Pokemon Go, which I play. There’s a story behind him that goes back into ancient Chinese legends.
Gyarados’ story starts as a harmless looking carp. In Pokemon, it is a Magikarp, but in legends far older than the game, carp in the Yellow River of China swim upstream to on a long journey to a magic waterfall extending high overhead. At the top of the waterfall is the Dragon Gate. If the carp can jump from the river below through the gate, they transform into a mighty dragon. Very few can jump through that gate and transform. But they try.
When I hear this story, I think of that carp jumping up a waterfall. Many jumps are failures, but after many attempts comes one that slightly higher than the rest. This jump is a failure to get to the gate, yet closer to the gate than any before it. More jumps and the carp make higher and higher jumps. Some fish quit or die trying. But some just keep jumping until they make it.
While mythical, the principle behind the legend is not. I keep a Gyrardos on my desk to remind me of that. The hoodie on my profile picture has Gyarados and Magikarp on it for the same reason. While there are no magical waterfalls in Pokemon Go, to evolve a Magikarp into a Gyarados takes time and persistence. One failure, one rejection, does not define us as a failure if we learn and grow from it.
I learned so much in pitching this project. I learned about my subject deeper than I had before. I realize now that other successes I’ve had took years of hard work to get to the place I was successful. To be successful in this new one requires the same persistence and strategy I used to get where I am in other situations. That’s the blessing of a rejection. At the minimum, you know this one place is the wrong one for this attempt. Another attempt, sometime in the future, maybe not. Maybe it’s the wrong waterfall, and the journey must continue toward the real waterfall. Someday, when you least expect it, you’ll find the hard work paid off. I’ve completed a marathon and handfuls of half marathons when I once thought I would never run a mile. I married the woman of my dreams decades after I first met her. Back then, I felt even a date with her was impossible. Authoring and recording my own weekly series on LinkedIn Learning still blows my mind. All of those took years to get to the place I could do them. All had many rejections and the magic of eventually seeing those failures as blessings.
I’ll move forward on my project and push more on the ones I already have working. I see the blessing of rejection, that I am now one step closer to my goal, as long as I continue to persist and grow.