“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” –John Lennon
After 15+ years of teaching elementary school, I resigned from my first grade teaching position in the middle of the first month of school. The stress had gotten so bad that I wasn’t able to get simple tasks like planning the day’s lessons done and I was calling in sick regularly. I no longer found pleasure in doing everyday activities, especially my job. I was severely depressed and something had to change.
So, what does this have to do with literary rejections? While I didn’t receive a formal rejection letter from a publisher, my rejection came from my bipolar mind and it was a loud and clear message that told me I wasn’t going to be able to do the work that I had trained for so many years to do. My brain said, “Kree, if you continue teaching, the pressure from this demanding job is going to kill you.” My mind, triggered by the stress of teaching, was not in a balanced place anymore.
I spiraled downhill for a while feeling lost and like a failure. I lost my sense of humor. I couldn’t get out of bed. I just felt bad. My self-esteem took a plunge. I was down for the count and my thoughts became extremely self-critical. I kicked myself when I was down. I called myself names. I blamed myself for being weak and a failure. My thoughts said I was a bad teacher, a bad mother, a bad wife. I withdrew socially because I felt like I had nothing of value to say or contribute.
Now, your way of coping with rejection may not be as extreme as my bipolar brain rejection was, but no doubt there are similarities. After receiving rejections you may have found yourself thinking, “I guess my writing is just not good enough. My book’s not selling. Why did I think I had talent?” As psychologist Guy Winch explains in his article Why rejection hurts so much – and what to do about it, “the greatest damage rejection causes is usually self-inflicted. Indeed, our natural response to being dumped by a dating partner or getting picked last for a team is not just to lick our wounds but to become intensely self-critical. We call ourselves names, lament our shortcomings, and feel disgusted with ourselves. In other words, just when our self-esteem is hurting most, we go and damage it even further. Doing so is emotionally unhealthy and psychologically self-destructive yet every single one of us has done it at one time or another.”
Intellectually I knew that attacking myself day in and day out for not being able to continue in the teaching profession was absolutely ridiculous, yet I continued down this road for quite a while. Beating myself up was not helping me move forward with my goals. Things started to change for me when I took a six-week mindfulness class for beginners. Through guided practice I learned that I could control which path my thoughts took. I also learned about self-compassion.
In The New York Times article, Go Easy On Yourself, A New Wave Of Research Urges, the author explains, “The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.” Writing and Wellness suggests that “Though self-compassion is an important skill for anyone to develop, it’s particularly important to creatives.” It’s positively associated with:
- increasing the likelihood of creative originality
- encouraging self-motivation
- increasing energy
- achieving mastery in your field
- optimal performance in general
Mindful explains that there are three components to self-compassion:
- Self Kindness – treating yourself in the same way you would treat a friend.
- Common Humanity – recognising that suffering is part of the shared human experience.
- Mindfulness – being aware of present-moment experience in a clear and balanced way.
I am in a much more balanced place now that I have started practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. That doesn’t mean that I am perfect and I never fall back into old self-critical habits. These new skills don’t come naturally and have to be practiced. They are a good starting place when faced with a painful rejection. As creativity coach, Dr. Eric Maisel, says, “There is nothing noble or righteous about self-criticism. Let it go.”