I asked a lot of people to marry me when I was in second grade. I never learned to fight very well, so I tried my best to love. Hence, the proposals.

I don’t know how many times as a seven year-old that I vowed to have and hold my classmates. I do know that I once proposed to my teacher, Mrs. Bennett, and she ignored the request (and probably suggested to my parents that I seek counseling). I also know that the second grade proposals were my first real taste of rejection.

Emily Kinney was no doubt the most beautiful of all my classmates–blonde hair, and dimples so perfect, Titleist used her as a model. She was the first girl to say no to me. Frankly, I don’t know how many times she rejected me over the years. We spent pretty much our entire education together. Had we actually gotten married in second grade, we probably wouldn’t have spent any more time with each other than we did by going to kindergarten through college together.

But she was beautiful, and I asked, and she said no, and she kicked me in the balls. Relationships have never been easy.

Over the rest of my formative years, I got used to rejection–from women, teachers, coaches, women, professors, and women. It almost became a way of life. It got to the point by the time I was 20 years old or so, I’d pretty much given up on most things that held the potential for being told no (except, I suppose, the pursuit of my wife, which wasn’t so much a courtship as a supernatural force that no one can really explain). Indeed, although I was scared of very little, I came to the point that I could no longer force myself to enter into a proposition in which I could be rejected.

This is not the kind of attitude that fits well on a guy who aspires to be a writer.

See, over the past, oh, 20 years or so, I’ve been so terrified of rejection that I’ve usually only submitted my writing to publishers when I was 99% certain it would be accepted. I couldn’t bear the idea of someone telling me I sucked, primarily because I pretty much suck at everything and, when all else fails, I hang my hat on my ability to string some words together.

About four years ago, I was sitting at a hibachi restaurant with a fairly well-known writer and his family. We got to chatting with another family at the table, and we were asked what we did for a living. The writer answered honestly. He was a writer. I balked. I didn’t know what to call myself. Still don’t, in fact.

As you might have figured out, I’ve recently started the very difficult process of trying to expand my list of publishing credits. I’ve been submitting various pieces to various places. Pick a topic I write on here, and I’m dipping my toes in the people who publish on those topics.

It’s not fun.

When I decided it was necessary to expand, I steeled myself for the inevitable rejections. I sat at my computer as I hit the send button and said, “This is not going to be easy and most of the time it will hurt, but if you’re going to do it, you have to do it now.” Townes said “time’s a fast old train” and I realized I’m pretty sure my ticket is one-way.

So, a few weeks have gone and I have received my first couple rejection letters. They weren’t unexpected, but that didn’t make them sting any less. After all, I never really expected Emily to say yes to my marriage proposals and the kick in the crotch wasn’t any huge surprise. That didn’t stop both from hurting. Likewise, it’s been a long time since I’ve been rejected. It’s also been a long time since I’ve been kicked in the balls. Neither gets easier to take just because I’m older.

See, the easy thing for anyone in my position is to pretend all is well, talk about how I have more work than I can handle, and skate though the next five or six years pretending I’m a writer. Ego is a tough thing to conquer, and it’s a lot easier if I don’t wave my failure around like some loser’s pennant. That is, it’s a lot easier to pretend to be a writer than to actually be a writer.

That is no complaint. No one, least of all me, is owed anything, especially a living as coveted as one earned by scribbling. Moreover, few people who have done things that are worthwhile have done them without getting rejected.

It’s surprising to me that I’ve gone this far–wasted this much time–worrying about getting rejected. The smart part of me knows what many of the readers here have told me: it’s much better to fail than not try. And so I’ve taken that advice that I should’ve taken more than a decade ago. Now, I’m getting a lot of practice in dealing with rejection.

You know, if Emily had said “yes” back in second grade, our 30th anniversary would be coming up pretty soon. While it might have been a great love story, Emily probably did me a great favor by introducing me to rejection when she did.

After all, every rejection letter still feels like a kick in the nuts.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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5 Responses

  1. Dr. Chako says:

    Give me a call any time. I’ll be happy to fly out there and kick you in the nuts before you read any potential rejection letters. It’s just the kind of guy I am.


  2. otis says:

    Chako–That is the sign of a real friend right there.

  3. BadBlood says:

    Hopefully your testicles will recede far enough back into your body cavity that the fear of rejection will simply become the risk of scrotal pain.

    You know, less.

    I look forward to hearing about the non-rejections.

  4. Da Goddess says:

    I’m pretty sure your wife is glad Emily said no. And I have a hunch that you wouldn’t have nearly the number of rejection letters for your writing as you might think if only you’d submit more pieces.

    But that’s just my thinking.

  5. MGM says:

    I’m pretty sure my stats professor in grad school would have said something about the statistics in this endeavor of yours. Seems that part of getting “not rejected” is probably a ratio of some sort in relationship to the rejections. In fact, Albert Ellis tried this psychology on himself in his development of REBT. He was so afraid of rejection that he eventually forced himself to ask 100 girls to go out with him, and if I remember correctly, somewhere on that journey he finally got a “yes!” And, incidentally, you were the one who eventually rejected me. Ironically, my memory was that you dumped me for Emily. But I think the reason that got blurred in my head is because I must have known your latent (or not so latent) feelings for her. I just never knew those feelings began in the second grade. 🙂