Rejection sucks. It really, really stinks. For a long time, I avoided it at all costs. The advantage is that I don’t feel burned; the downside is that I missed the opportunities I wanted but was too scared to try.
For many years, this made it impossible for me to pursue the job that I really loved. Every few years, I send a little post, which is then rejected, and then I’ll treat my wounds rather than double attack the next time.
Then, last year, Rachel and I came up with a plan. What if, instead of hiding our denials, we go public about them together? What if instead of avoiding rejection, we actively look for them and compete to win the most? So our search for great failure began. We started a chain of emails—to be shared with each other and no one else—documenting everything we tried. Our parameters are very wide, especially at first. “We cover every job we’ve applied for, every submitted article, graduation and achievement school hurdles,” you name it. If it frightened us, then it was added to the list.
The benefits of writing down your goals are well known. It can help you get clarity and make you more likely to achieve your ambitions. That said, I think there’s something even stronger about allowing yourself – and your goals – to be fully seen by others. Not only am I honest with myself, but I’m completely honest with others about what I’m trying to do.
In theory, this has to scare me. Let others see every way I’ve failed? Another day, I’d say, “No, thank you!” The secret to the success of this contest is how failure is accepted, even desirable. The “contest” factor speaks to the passion in each of us. For every effort we made, every time we hurt ourselves and tried for something, we put it on the list. Rejection is counted as a point. Acceptance is counted as a negative point that reduces your overall score. The person with the most points at the end of the year receives an unknown award.
A sub-prize appears. I know that there is a possibility that Rachele could end the year with more points, but only if I have more success than she does. This notion is unacceptable, so I am committed to trying as much as I can.
The competition was a success. Each of us tries to get more opportunities. We become less scared every time we fail, and each failure is a little less painful. When we are open to each other about the level of effort of each small “win”, we have a cheerleaer. I knew that Rachele would never deny me a success because she knew the work had gone into it. She has seen the statistics table of previous rejections. I felt the same way about her.
The competition was successful in two ways. It helps me re-adjust the way I feel about each failure. The biggest surprise was its strong impact on my business. The competition began in June 2015. Within a year and a half, I had made the leap to get paid to make impromptu comedy (which is rare in an industry that is not expected to be paid), and I was able to move on to … free time. It even affected my personal life. Since I actively sought professional rejection, I started dating more boldly, and it led me to my current (and best) relationship.
In recent months, I have stopped tallying my denials closely. I don’t need them the way I used to. Every time I had an accepted article, I thought, “There are ten denials that come with it.” Finally, free work is a game of numbers. The more shots you have on goal, the higher your likelihood of scoring.
It seems scary, pursuing failure has changed my life. Now, I’m doing a lot of work that I love and work hard for.