A reminder to myself
When I got my acceptance letter to grad school, I opened it alone in my bedroom. I was fully prepared for rejection but somehow I got in, so I read it over and over until I felt my eyes tear up. In life, it’s hard to pinpoint turning points. But acceptance and rejection letters make it pretty clear.
Before that, I had spent the previous several months working from home. I’d write something, send it via internet and someone would deposit money into my bank account. People assume it’s the loneliness that got to me. It wasn’t. It was the hopelessness. It was the believe that I could no longer do anything I wanted.
So that’s why I applied to grad school, and that’s why I only applied to the school that described itself as the “Center for the Recently Possible,” which I saw as a neon sign blinking, “Hope here.”
Anyway, I took that acceptance letter and I zipped it in my back pocket for three days. I told no one about it. I wasn’t sure if I would accept the offer; I didn’t really think about it. I just savored the feeling this letter gave me. It was freedom; it was escape; it was exhilaration and bravery and awesomeness.
Eventually I accepted the offer and I went to school. It was an incredible semester. Sure, there were painful stints of frustration. But this led to magical moments of triumph, and returned to me the feeling that I could do anything I wanted to do. My classmates were just as inspiring because there were people who were also stuck in life and were seeking the exact same thing I was.
The day I applied to school was about two years ago; the day I had my first moment of triumph was about a year ago. Now, I’m eight months away from graduation, which is still a long way, and people keep asking me what I want to do when I’m done. I keep describing vague possibilities, but I frankly don’t know. It’s not because I haven’t thought about; it’s because I don’t care what I’ll be doing. I just don’t want to feel trapped again. I want to keep feeling like I can do anything.
On the Simon Cowell TV show, “XFactor,” the performers come on stage smiling and by the time they leave, they’re always crying. They’re either so happy because Simon didn’t trample on their hopes, or they’re devastated because Simon thinks they are bad. But in between the smiling and the crying, they are happy, they are singing — and they want to keep singing.
But whenever Simon says “no” to a singer, I watch from my sofa and think that these people should keep singing, no matter what Simon says. Because as long as they keep singing, the hope is alive. But rejection, or even critique, has a way of nipping the bud at the stem. It hurts, and I begin to get scared of feeling that way again. So I stop trying.
When I write, I hate letting other people see my drafts because I’m scared of what they’ll say. I’m scared of the criticism, because I know it’ll make me hurt and I don’t want to feel that way. Even on a computer, I don’t just delete the criticized words. I close the document, delete the file and open a new one.
So I guess I’m terrified of rejection, which is why I always brace for it. It’s also why I was partially satisfied sitting at home and making a decent salary, and why I sometimes fantasize about working a safe 9-to-5 office job.
But today I had this thought that, if I keep singing, I can’t fail. It was a fleeting thought — no, a feeling — that I knew I would forget. So I wanted to write it down in a public place. This way, I can be held accountable if I ever decide to give up.
There are hundreds of famous quotes on not giving up, and we’ve reached a “don’t give up” blindness. We interpret it as “try hard.” It’s so much more than that.
Eighteen months ago, when I got my acceptance letter, I began to feel free. It gave me the bravery to try new things with my writing, and it gave me back the belief that I could change the world.
I remembered that feeling today. I don’t want to forget it. I hope I don’t find it trite when I come back and read it. But this is a note to myself: Always act as if there is an acceptance letter in your back pocket.