The upside of rejection

No one likes to hear no.

But as hard as rejection is, it can help you out in the long run. Think of it as a forcing function. That poem I thought was perfect and sent out in the mail? If it comes back a few times, I know it’s ready for another look–for some tinkering, revising, completely reimagining, or setting aside for a long while (or forever). Would my poems be as good if they were accepted the first time? Would I have grown as much as a poet, a writer?

Right now, I daily face rejection on two fronts: poetry and a job search (which is more intense, because we’re talking food on the table). Sure, it would be great to get hired right away. But in the meantime, as I work and rework my resume, I’m learning more about what will be a good fit for me, how I can do my best work.

It reminds me of house-hunting. The market was hot then. Our first offer was used to jack up the price for someone else. Losing out on that house felt crushing, as though we’d never find another house as nice as that one. Three months and several more house offer later, I stood in a kitchen and thought, “I really want to live her.” It was a better fit, and we’ve been here 15 years. If we’d gotten that first house, we would have missed this one.

I don’t know whether every no gets you closer to a yes. I do know that you can’t get the yes unless you put yourself or your work out there, and that every rejection can help you learn or discover something new.

The 5-item cheat sheet for reinventing yourself

Last week, I talked about being in a state-of-change, not knowing what’s coming next, and I linked to James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Reinventing Yourself. He answers all the questions (or excuses) a person might have, but that makes the list really long. To be effective, I need a shorter list–maybe five things to remember and act on. Here are my five things:

1. You start from scratch.

Basically, any labels (or job titles) you had before are now a part of the past. In the context of reinvention, this makes sense.

(Note: Reinvention sort of sounds like dying your hair and getting a fast, new car and a new spouse and all new friends. I’m not talking about that. This reinvention refers to learning a new kind of work, a new way to contribute, a new path. That’s my take on it.)

2. Read 200+ books on the path you want to pursue.

If you get tired of reading those books, pick a different path. Two paths you want to pursue? Think about how to combine them.

3. Start reading and doing now.

You don’t have to wait until you’ve read all 200+ books. Personal caveat: I’m lucky if I can read 20 books (plus poetry) a year. If I wait until I read them all, that’s some sad math.

4. Get enough sleep and be healthy.

This past week, I’ve been fighting off a head cold, and this advice has looked like a neon sign, in magenta. It’s really hard to start something new if you don’t have the physical energy.

5. Network, find mentors, and be generous.

Learn as much as you can. Help other people when they can learn from you.

We can always refer to the full list if we need it to fill in any gaps.

What do you think? How do you start something completely new–whether it’s a career or a new way to create?

Staying in change

I’m living in the land of uncertainty.

I do not like uncertainty. I do not like long-term ambiguity. I manage change by changing quickly–I’ll be first in line. Change? Done. Move on. Sometimes, that isn’t a good thing. Sometimes, I’d do well to step back and question assumptions, do the “rude Q&A.”

Now, in this unexpected transition period, I’m learning to embrace uncertainty as the flip side of opportunity, and a chance for more growth. The longer I’m here, the more doors I see. They’re still closed–but they’re doors. So much better than an empty wall.

It’s my job to get another job, but also to explore all the kinds of work and experiences that new job can encompass–to apply my work skills to my job search. What’s the best way I can contribute? What do I know, and what do I need to learn?

Which door is right for me, and how can I get my foot in it?

With perfect timing, LinkedIn today sent me this post on reinventing yourself. What I love about it: concrete steps to take now, and answers to all the rude (but valid) questions. I appreciate when people think through all the likely objections and address them head on. That said, am I ready to reinvent myself?

When I started my novel, I allowed myself to write badly, because I was at the bottom of a long learning curve, and I’d learn. I’d take classes. According to Mr. Altucher, I should be reading books, too–for the novel and for my next career. I appreciate the idea that if you read 200 books on something, you know you love it and you’ve learned a lot.  (I also appreciate that this advice has excellent ramifications for authors and bookstores!)

Where to start? Currently, I’m reading Sparrow, by Bethany Reid; The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard; and Light Years, by James Salter. The compulsive me doesn’t want to abandon something I’ve started, but maybe I should be reading books about health or neuroscience–or writing and teaching writing. Time to assemble a bibliiography. For me, the trick is finding books by credible people (still stinging from the Jonah Lehrer debacle).

Any recommendations?

What would you (or have you) read 200 books about? How would you reinvent yourself?

P.S. No matter what, I’ll still be a poet.

5 ways to jump out of a slump

Last week, I talked about acceptance and hoping the Universe will send a big Yes.

Today, sending out job applications and contest submissions, I thought of the line from Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Am I experiencing a failure to communicate? Or am I at the bottom of the Universe’s slush pile?

This time of year, when the days are short and cold and the sky’s slush-gray, it’s easy to feel buried. Here are five ideas for getting back into action.

1. Listen to this (it’s short):

Or whatever makes you feel silly and maybe a little rebellious. I’ve loved this song since I heard it on Sesame Street when my kids were little, and I thought of it again today. (I was so excited to find it on YouTube so I could share it with you.) “No” is a word you start to hear a lot as a toddler–but in this song, they’re explaining it, and they even say it’s important, but there’s a subversive defiance in the way they list all the fun things. No is a word you need to know, but sometimes it’s no fun and maybe it makes no sense.

2. Beware the peril of “should”

We all have things to do–call them chores or tasks or deliverables. But we also want to do the things that make us happy and motivate us. I’ve heard people say they need to clean the whole house before they can write. I am not that person (and my house is not that clean), but I do find it hard to start writing when I have something hanging over my head. So I take care of all the “shoulds” suspended there, and then the day’s over. Or the week’s over. And I’m grouchy.

“Shoulds” need to stay in balance. In a recent class, Dorianne Laux proposed that you just need to write 20 minutes a day, and anyone can find 20 minutes. The trick is to banish the other stuff to the corner for those 20 minutes. That’s easier for me to do if I’m on the bus (and have a seat). No bus? It becomes a challenge.

How do you balance relative importance (and time)?

3. Focus on the project

I had a dance teacher who would walk around the room, correcting a dancer’s alignment and explaining what he wanted, ending with “That’s the project.” Focusing on what we need to learn, how we need to get better, distracts us from thinking that we can’t. Whether it’s reading a book, writing from new prompts, or getting started by writing lists or outlines, this kind of practice requires an attention that shuts out frustration.

4. Love the process

When I first read this on Penelope Trunk’s blog, I thought, “The last thing we need is more process.” But she isn’t talking about more spreadsheets. Loving the process is about immersion and learning–enjoying what you’re doing more than the result you get. That result might not be what you wanted, but that brings us to the last point:

5. Fail better

We always come back to Beckett. These isn’t the only poem I’m going to write or the only job I’m going to apply for. Even if I really want the poem to be fantastic. Even if I really want this job.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” –Samuel Beckett

See you on the up side.

What’s new for you? Embracing change

The other night I was cooking with Hachiya persimmons. My previous persimmon experience involved one taste (probably Fuyu) and a poem. I was thinking about the research showing that new experiences help us to feel healthier and happier (apparently, even if they’re stressing us out).

That reminded me of an NPR story about youth and newness–how people tend to gravitate toward the same things as they grow older. My takeaway? It’s important to bust out of your ruts and try new things if you want to understand the generations coming up behind yours.

Our country, or our media, value youth over age and the experience it brings. Even the Penelope Trunk focuses on your career in your 20s, 30s, even 40s. But in your 50s?

(This reminds me of the time I signed up to audition for a dance scholarship program. I’d just turned 24, and the woman at the table said, “I’ll write down 23.”)

How do you navigate a career change in your 50s?

I’m focusing on the change part. Most recently, I’ve come from an industry that leans toward youth–but I think that learning new things, exploring, staying open to possibilities and knowledgeable about shifts is more important than a date on a birth certificate. And better than face cream. Think young and bring your experience.

That made me think of a conversation taking place in the poetry world about six years ago–something to the effect that the only interesting poetry was being written by poets in their 20s and 30s (caveat: I haven’t been able to find a link; do you remember this?). By now, some of those poets are in their 40s. Do they feel washed up? I hope not–because it isn’t about a number, it’s about trying new styles, subjects, approaches to your craft, reading new work, exploring. I remember one poet who read at Open Books explaining that her second was so different from her first because she wouldn’t want to write the same book over again. At the time, I thought, “Huh?” (I loved her first book). But now I get it. I appreciate what Louise Gluck says in Poetry in Person:

“Something can be marvelous and still need to be stopped. Otherwise, you don’t change…And if you don’t change, then you stop writing good poems…So when you can identify a maneuver, even if you never do it badly, you should stop doing it…As soon as an expectation begins to form around your work, either on your part or on the part of readers, you must do your best not to gratify it.”

My next book comes out in February, and it takes new risks, stretches into different styles.

My next job might be in tech, but for a different company or a different audience. Or I might write about something different (science! health!). I’m looking for all the open doors.

Do you eat new foods? Listen to new music? Read different kinds of books? Travel to new places? Work in new ways? How do you keep growing?

Now I’m off to read more about mechanical stress and fatigue strength.