Why You Should Actually Celebrate Rejection

This is an excerpt from my Monday Motivation newsletter. Like what you see? Subscribe here.

Warning: Very sappy post ahead.

I was talking to the lovely highschooler I mentor a few weeks ago and she was distraught because she’d been rejected. She wondered if she should stop writing because she hadn’t won a national writing contest.

Did you get that? She didn’t win first place in a writing contest which THOUSANDS of students entered, and she thought it meant she was a bad writer. This is ridiculous and I told her as much (I said it nicely, don’t freak out).

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Our conversation made me realize how often I’ve made similar assumptions in my own life. I wasn’t the best person on the team so I assumed I shouldn’t be on it. I didn’t get into the first musical theater program I auditioned for, so I decided I must not be good enough to get into any.

But here’s the thing: in order to get what you want out of life, you have to be willing to face rejection.

I’ll say it one more time for the people in the back: in order to get what you want, you have to be willing to face rejection.

In my short time on this earth I’ve been rejected for everything imaginable. I didn’t get most of the student leadership positions I applied for in college. I haven’t gotten 90 percent of the jobs I went after. When I was a performer I didn’t get into most of the shows I auditioned for. Most recently, when I was querying agents for my novel I had an approximate 60 percent rejection rate.

But guess what?

It only takes one yes.

I wish I could show you the incredibly detailed Rejection Spreadsheet I had when querying agents. It was intensely color coded and filled with all sorts of information about how long it took for someone to reject me, if they had anything nice to say, if it was a form letter, how thoroughly they’d crushed my dreams etc.. I’ll protect the innocent and not show the whole thing, but basically here’s what it ended up looking like:

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If you’re wondering if Red was the Color of Rejection the answer is YES. Yes it was. You’ll notice there is exactly one green box.

It only took one.

I didn’t need 25 agents, I needed one. I didn’t need 10 jobs, I needed one.

We live in a world where what you want often lies down a path that someone else has to open the door for. If you want to be a lawyer, you have to get into law school. If you want to be on Broadway, you have to be cast in a Broadway show. If you want to play basketball, you have to make the team.

All this can make it feel like success is out of your hands. This is a lie. Success is up to you. Because in order to get into law school Because in order to get into law school you have to take the LSAT. To be on Broadway, you have to audition. To make the team, you have to try out.

It’s up to you.

Please, for the love of carbs, friends, do not let rejection keep you from knocking on the door. I have folders full of rejections for freelance pitches, jobs, and my novel. But I’ve sold pitches. I have a job I love. And I have representation for that novel.

It only takes one yes.

Keep going. Knock on the door. Make the ask. Start training. Send the application. Cold call the client.

And when you get the (inevitable) first rejection, don’t give up. Rejection isn’t cause for shame, it’s cause for celebration. Why? Because to get rejected you have to actually try for something. If you’ve been rejected, congratulations! Welcome to the club.

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Celebrate your rejections, embrace all the nos that come your way, and get very comfortable with doors being slammed in your face. But never, ever, not even for a minute, let any of those things make you think you’re not good enough. Do not let something as small and insignificant as rejection keep you from your dream.

It only takes one yes. So don’t stop asking.

PS: Want sappy motivation deliver straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Monday Motivation newsletter for GIFs than your heart can handle.

PPS: if you thought you could make it through this post without an LOTR GIF you were kidding yourself.

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5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 3: Start Heatmapping

This is Part 3 in a Five Part series.

Read the Intro

Read Step 1: Identify and Attack Your Triggers

Read Step 2: Make a Bored List

One thing I’ve learned about myself over year years of failure and embarrassment is that I am not good at recognizing correlations in my life. You’ve probably heard the phrase “correlation does not equal causation” in regards to data. On a scientific level, this principle holds true, but I’ve found that, on a personal level, correlation often does equal causation.

Other people are often than the ones who point out possible causes of a problem I’m experiencing. Friends have noticed that I tend to fall asleep if I eat a lot of bread or that I touch my hair a lot and that might be why it gets greasy so fast. These sound like obvious culprit, but before they were pointed out to me I assumed I just couldn’t stay awake during movies and that it was impossible to clean my hair. Connecting emotions to tangible aspects of my life does not come naturally to me.

Hence, Heatmapping.

If I had to pick one tool that I’ve found to be the most essential getting unstuck it would be Heatmapping. No contest.

I first discovered Heatmapping in college and it quite literally changed my life. I was exhausted all the time (like, fall asleep at 8 p.m. on my birthday exhausted) and there was no reason for it. I was happy and getting plenty of sleep and it wasn’t Winter. It was infuriating. I couldn’t stay up past 9 and I was tired all the time, but there was no discernible cause.

I found out about Heatmapping from Susan Dennard (if you are a writer, Susan Dennard is the Yoda you need—her website is incredible). Dennard used Heatmapping to figure out when she was most productive and what elements factored into that increased productivity. By using this technique she was able to figure out her peak work times and how to stretch those times so she could get more writing done.

So. What’s Heatmapping?

Basically Heatmapping requires you to track your activity and mood every hour of the day (you can modify this to every half hour to be more specific). I take this one step farther and also track my activities so I can correlate them with my mood. By tracking mood and energy level on a daily basis you can identify patterns over time. Maybe you tend to feel gloomiest at 3 p.m. or are more productive on days you drink less than two cups of coffee.

In college, I filled a folder with a bunch of copies of a Heatmap, bought some colored markers, and went to town. Within a few weeks I had noticed a pattern: the more sleep I got the less energy I had the next day. I kept tracking my sleep and eventually figured out that I need to between 6.5-7.5 hours to be operate at my highest level. This was a total game changer for me. I’d always been told that more sleep was essential to feeling rested, but in my case the more I slept the more I wanted to sleep and the more exhausted I felt. Since then I’ve to manage my sleep to make sure I’m getting the right amount for my body.

So how can you start Heatmapping? It’s easy and involves coloring so get excited.

1. Choose your template

Traditional, productivity Heatmaps use a circular grid. I find this confusing, but if circles float your boat, you can find a template of this model template here and a detailed explanation of how to use it here.

If you prefer a more straight forward spreadsheet, you can create your own version in Excel. This is what I did in college, but  lately I’ve been using Google Sheets. I like Sheets because it’s on the internet so I can access it from anywhere.

I used to print out pages and fill them in physically. If that’s your style, go for it! Any excuse to color is acceptable in my book. Personally, I find that it’s easier for me to track things digitally.

Here’s an example of what my Heatmap looks like:

Heatmap

I prefer to break my day into half hour increments (as opposed to hour) because I have a short attention span and tend to rotate activities more than once an hour.

If you’d like more info on how I designed my personal Heatmap comment below or shoot me an email and I’ll do a post giving more details on it.

2. Choose your color scheme

Next you’ll want to figure out what color scheme you want to use.

Here’s mine:

Red = time wasted

Green = peak productivity

Pink = lightly wasted time

Orange = TV/entertainment

Purple = socializing

Blue = sleep

Grey = rest, recharge, introvert time

Yellow = necessary life tasks (cleaning, commuting, etc.)

I have this pasted at the bottom of my Heatmap Sheet so I can refer to it easily.

Here’s how Susan Dennard color codes her map:

  • blue= sleeping
  • purple= cooking, showering, dealing with the pets/husband
  • green= creative flow zone
  • yellow= I’m productive but distracted
  • orange=  ugggggggh, I’m barely accomplishing anything
  • red= watching TV, reading, chatting with husband/friends

You can find more on Susan’s Heatmapping method here. I cannot emphasize this enough: if you are a writer and this type of color coding organizational stuff appeals to you, go check out Susan’s website immediately. She is the Queen of charts/productivity/words.

For other ideas you can check out Productive Flourishing’s model, which focuses more on energy level and less on activity.

3. Set up your supplies

If you’re going old school, print 31 copies of your Heatmap and stick them in a folder or binder. Plan on carrying this with you everywhere for the next month. You’ll also want to buy some markers or coloring pencils. If you’re going the digital route, make sure you have access to your Heatmap on your phone and laptop.

4. Map away!

Now’s the fun part! Start coloring in your boxes. I think it’s better to do this throughout the day as opposed to all at once, but if you’re struggling to remember to update the map on an hourly basis, you can do it once a day.

Tips for effective Heatmapping:

  • Set reminders

In order to get the best results, it’s essential to fill in the map every day—and to fill it in on the day you’re recording. It’s not helpful if you spend Friday morning trying to remember your mood and activities on Thursday. To help me remember to fill mine in I have reminders set on my phone and computer.

  • Commit to Heatmapping for 31 days

To get a sense of your mood and energy patterns, you need at least a month’s worth of data. You can start looking for patterns earlier, but for best results, stick with it for an entire month.

  • Be honest

When we start paying attention to how we’re spending our time and how that makes us feel, it can be tempting to lie. You might want to downplay how much time you spend watching TV or how many hours a day you waste trolling the internet. Don’t. Being honest about your life is the only way you can hope to improve it.

I’m found that simply paying more attention to the way I’m spending my time often helps me get unstuck. And Heatmapping is the best way I know to force myself to pay attention. Have you tried Heatmapping or another time tracking method? Let me know in the comments below?

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5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 2: Make a Bored List

This is Part 2 in a five part series.

Read the introduction

Read Part 1

If I had to pick one emotion that lines up with feeling stuck it would be boredom. I’ve never been one to get bored easily. As a kid, I would spend hours on my own talking to myself and

Boredom – feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.

You’ll notice that this definition omits one of the things I considered essential for boredom as child: not having anything to do. What I’ve realized is that boredom isn’t about not having anything to do. As an adult, there’s always something to do. Boredom can stem from two things:

  1. Not doing anything

  2. Not liking what you’re doing

Both are problematic and stem from different underlying causes, but one thing I’ve been experimenting with lately is a simple solution that I think applies to both.

The Bored List

I call it the Bored List. What I realized is that when you’re an adult there’s no excuse to be bored. There’s always something that needs to get done. For a lot of people, it’s more difficult to rest—to stop hacking away at the never ending To Do list—than to start.

Feeling bored is not a normal experience for me, but lately I’ve found myself with more free time than usual (thanks horrible NYC winter!) and I’m not spending wisely. Feeling bored is a symptom of being stuck.

A teacher once told me that bored people are boring. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do think that bored people are forgetful. When we’re bored, it’s not that there’s nothing we want or could be doing, it’s that we’re not remembering how we want to spend our time.

I’ll sometimes find myself with chunks of times where I have no commitments and I have no idea how to spend it. This is where the Bored List comes in. If I find myself reaching for the remote or falling down a YouTube rabbit hole (I recently discovered the early Lonely Island videos and I’m dead), instead of automatically giving these things my time I first review my Bored List. It’s basically a list of ongoing projects or things I want to work on when I have time. Some things currently on my Bored List: clean out craft shelf, download photos from phone, plan Europe trip.

I taped my Bored List to my laptop and put it in the Notes on my phone. Anytime I find myself reaching for these things when I’m bored, I instead review the list and remind myself of the things in my life that need my attention.

What helps you keep boredom at bay? Let me know in the comments!

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Why Fasting is the Secret to Creative Growth

Today is Ash Wednesday,* the day that marks the beginning of Lent for many people of faith around the world. Lent, for those of you who are not bombarded with reminders on social media about it every year, is a religious term referring to the 40 days leading up to Easter. It’s tradition for people to fast for these 40 days in preparation for Easter Sunday.

I had no idea what Lent was until I went to college and got band-wagoned into giving up something trendy each Spring. One year it was desserts. Another, Facebook. My friends gave up coffee or alcohol or carbs. In more recent years, I became suspicious of the benefits of Lent. It seemed like the things people gave up were less about some pursuit of spiritual discipline and more about personal benefits. Lent just seemed like another excuse to diet.

But in the past year I’ve awoken to the power of deprivation to spur personal and artistic growth. I’ve given up one thing each month since last August. Sugar. Coffee. Alcohol. Cussing. The practice started on accident. I did a spending fast because (shocker) I felt like I was spending too much money, and when it was over, I realized there were a lot of other things I consumed in excess and so I just kept going.

Fasting is most commonly known as a spiritual exercise and most religions incorporate it in some way. Muslims practice Ramadan. Hindus set aside certain days every week to fast. Christians fast during Lent. Jewish people fast to celebrate Yom Kippur.

When I started giving up things for set periods of time, I wasn’t doing it for spiritual growth. I was doing it for selfish reasons. I wanted to save money so I stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t want to get addicted to caffeine so I gave up coffee. But what I’ve come to realize is that deprivation automatically forces growth.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Dan Coleman writes that, “There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse.”

This is an especially essential skill in a first world country where delayed gratification is not a given. In America, you can go your whole life without going without. This is a blessing. But instant gratification can quickly become a burden. When we stuff ourselves with an endless stream of food, entertainment, and material goods, we starve ourselves of the opportunity to want something.

Fasting forces you to be present in your life. Every time you say no to something, you are reminded that you are a rational being, capable of making choices. It’s so easy to glide through our days with our heads down and never look up. My default is to ignore the big picture of my life in favor of getting through another day. Fasting reminds me of the very simple, but entirely remarkable fact that I’m alive.

Sugar, television, expensive clothes, alcohol—all of these things are unessential. Fasting sloughs them off.

If you are feeling stuck or in need of a creative jolt, I invite you to use Lent as an excuse to give something up. If you don’t know where to start, think of the things you do on a daily basis. What do you eat? How do you spend leisure time? Then go with the thing that sounds the most terrifying to be without.

Give up your crutch for the next 40 days. You may be surprised to learn that you are perfectly capable of standing on your own.

*it’s also Valentine’s Day, an irony that gives me endless joy

Happy New Week!

Everyone I know loves the new year. We throw parties, stay up late, and most importantly of all, make resolutions.

I think what draws most people to New Year’s—more than the midnight parties and the ball dropping in Times Square—is the chance to start over. The new year is always a blank slate, a fresh opportunity, a second chance.

I’m no exception. I love making lists of ways I’m magically going to be better, completely different person than who I actually am because that’s the kind of delusional hope that January gives me.

It’s funny to me that most people love the opportunity to start a new year, but loathe starting a new week. I think this might have something to do with the fact that, as many resolutions as we make, New Year’s is not a real harbinger for change. It’s easy to ignore because it only comes once every 365 days. New Year’s is a red herring—we use it to give ourselves a spark of hope for change, without any of the work and drive that real change requires.

But if you want to wring the most joy possible out of your one wild and precious life, why only give yourself one opportunity a year to try?

Monday is a weekly reminder of our opportunity to start fresh. What if instead of making huge New Year’s resolutions that we’ll never fulfill, we made New Week resolutions? You don’t have to make the same mistakes this week that you made last week. You don’t have to wait until January to start improving your life. Start today. Heck, start now. Stop reading this and start working. I won’t be offended.

New Week resolution

Make a New Week resolution and stick to it! Mine for this week is to get up when my alarm goes off (because I don’t want to snooze button through life). What’s yours? Shoot me an email and let’s hold each other accountable.