You Only Need One “Yes.”

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming


Today is my law school convocation. In a few short hours, I’ll have my diploma in my hand. You’ll excuse me if I’m a little reflective.

What I’ve been thinking about is how the most important lesson law school teaches is that you can survive anything. It’s true. If you can survive being herded around like you’re in junior high all over again, sleep deprivation (who knew I could still pull an all-nighter?), 3-hour 100% final exams, disappointing grades, and rejection (most of all, rejection) then you can survive anything.

Rejection is an intrinsic part of the law school experience. Orientation Week was barely over before Career Services was touting first-year summer jobs. And so it went from there: moots, clerkships, second-year summers, articling, etc. And partly because this is what you do at law school and partly because I was (more or less) interested, I applied for all these things. As did most everyone else.

You see where this is heading.

Two hundred students. One slot. 199 rejection letters.

What odds! (And that doesn’t even take into account students from other schools.)

So anything you apply for is a long shot at best, but somehow this didn’t really sink in at first. (Maybe it was all the sunshine and roses we were showered with in the first weeks—even the loftiest of goals seemed within reach.) The first flood of rejection letters was ego-crushing. I’d try to read between the lines, wondering if that ambiguous phrase in paragraph two really did mean that that firm gave my application more than a cursory glance (should I try again?)—or if that’s just the impression the letter-writer wanted to leave me with (no, I’m sure they were just being polite).

But because I heard “no” so many times in quick succession, somewhere along the way, rejection lost its power to get to me. Later on, when an envelope arrived in my mailbox, I’d flick the letter open just wide enough to see the “Thank you, but…” and stuff it back in the envelope. No worries. What’s next?

The sheer quantity of rejection gave me new perspective. Eventually, I was able to accept that not being chosen didn’t mean that I was a loser or that I sucked or even that I needed to revamp my entire application package before the next mailout. Maybe all it meant was that I just wasn’t what Firm A was looking for. It could be that what that firm really wanted was someone who could golf with the clients. Perhaps one of the only real truths uttered in the whole process is that “fit” matters.

And that brings me to my impetus for writing this.

Not too long ago, after I sent out a batch of notification letters, I received a reply from a writer wanting to know why his work had been rejected. He listed a bunch of alternative reasons for me to choose from, including that his work was “bad.”

I really didn’t think that he wanted me to write back and say, “Yes, that’s why. It was bad.” Clearly, what he was doing was poking at his open wound of rejection. Poke. Ouch. Poke. Ouch. Yep, still hurts.

Anyhow, the truth was that it wasn’t bad. It was okay. It just didn’t grab me. It didn’t feel right for Toasted Cheese. It was the wrong fit. That’s all.

So that’s what I wanted to say. Sometimes all a rejection means is that you’re a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. If you’ve been honest with yourself and you’re sure your work is good, then before you tear it apart (again), or worse, give up and stick it in a drawer, try a different market (and another and another and another…). Keep trying. Don’t give up. A thousand rejections can be erased by just one “yes.”

pencil

Beaver graduates from law school today. (Woot!) She is intimately acquainted with rejection. E-mail: beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com.

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