Last week, I came across this Princeton professor’s “cv of failures,” and LOVED IT. Bravo, sir! So many of us use social media as a promotional tool; it’s so surprise that we can feel pressure to make our personas seem perpetually happy and productive and prosperous. Not only are these facades misleading, they’re also often counter-productive; our failures (and how we overcome them) can be just as important and impressive and inspiring as our successes, and certainly do just as much to show the world who we are.
I’m so inspired by this idea that I’ve decided to put together my own cv. As follows:
CV of Failures
As inspired by Johannes Haushofer, who was inspired by Melanie I. Stefan
Rejected manuscripts (2000-present)
Too many to count. But really, when I look back on these, most of the rejections make sense. The story really wasn’t strong enough, or the premise was too adult, or the humor really did seem too one-note. I’ve learned from all of those responses. In a couple of other cases, the editor who turned it down just didn’t “get it,” and that just meant that the editor who did “get it” was out there somewhere. Learning experiences, all.
Though, I have to admit, the most painful rejection (or seemingly-endless series of rejections) I ever received was for the first novel I ever sent out on submission via my agent in the spring of 2011, a story I’d written while I was going through chemo. It really saved me, to be able to write during such a dark time. I thought of this novel as the light at the end of the cancer tunnel — once I was well, it would sell, and my new life (and career) would begin. When it was roundly rejected, it took me a long time to get back on my feet. Really, I think it’s been the most devastating upset of my life so far, which makes me all the prouder that I’ve been able to move past it.
Cancelled books and OSI (Out of Stock Indefinitely) books (2000-present)
And then there are the books you write that never make it (an editor leaves, an artist backs out, a sales department has a change of heart) — and the ones that do make it but never really MAKE IT, which then die a long, slow death. I’ve had my share of both. But that’s life in publishing, folks.
LAYOFF, November 2008
Yep, I was laid off from my job, the day before Obama won his first presidential election — talk about CHANGE. And I was a trend-setter even then, as the major publishing layoffs didn’t start happening for another few weeks after mine. I can’t say I was surprised, given the economy at the time. And it did hurt a bit that no one else seemed to want to hire me — but, really, I’d had my fill of traditional publishing by then. And if I’d been hired by another house, I never would have founded my own consulting firm, and I never would have had or made time for my own writing, all of which led me to where I am now.
I know this shouldn’t count as a failing, but it sure felt like it at the time — especially as an author of children’s books, where the first question most people ask is, “So, do you have kids?” And especially after every increasingly-invasive fertility treatment, when I’d get the call each month that the treatment had failed and I was NOT PREGNANT. Nothing can make you feel like a failure/outsider like not being able to do the most natural thing in the world. In some ways, I’m almost glad (???) cancer came along, because it ended so many years of desperation. Yes, we did end up with a (COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED) happy ending, but I think the journey taught me that I can’t control everything, and that some things just aren’t going to happen for me, even when I make every possible effort…and that some things ARE going to happen for me, when I least expect them to.
Graduate programs I did not get into (1992-1994)
The first time I applied to MFA programs, I was a senior in college. It was 1992, we were in the midst of another recession (though perhaps not as “great” as the most recent one). It seemed as if everyone was trying to prolong their education in order to prevent themselves from having to face the crap job market. I was one of those people.
Spoiler: I did not get in anywhere.
From 1992-1994, I worked three jobs: for my father (an utter disaster, and another story for another time), at a bookstore (my local B&N, one of the first ever “superstores”), and for a catalog shopping service, where I wore a headset for eight hours a day. It was a miserable existence. Fortunately, it was miserable enough to make me reapply to graduate school in 1994. In the case of Emerson College, I had to reapply twice — my first application package was irreparably damaged after it encountered some winter slush in transit, and by the time they alerted me and I was able to assemble and send in my fresh package, all the program slots had been filled, and I ended up waitlisted. But I did end up getting in, and when I entered the program, I had a LOT of post-college life experience to mine for my writing. BONUS: It turned out my college roommate was in grad school at the same time, and was living in Boston, so we became roommates again.
Colleges I did not get into (1987-1988)
Granted, I did not apply to many schools, as my parents discouraged me from attending any out-of-state institution. I ended up receiving rejections in every case but one, and that was my safety school, and I was WAITLISTED there. As you might imagine, my guidance counselor had her work cut out for her. I did end up getting into (and going to) that safety school — the school my mother pretty much bribed me to go to (which was closest to our house). Sadly, even the bribe didn’t work out as planned. Moral: Always keep your options WIDE open, always get agreements with your parents in writing, and ALWAYS read the fine print.
Miscellaneous early failures
I received a D in AP history my senior year of high school, the first grade under a B I’d received ever, which contributed to that whole not-getting-into-college-anywhere thing. I like to think this taught me a lesson about not spreading myself too thin.
I was never asked to the senior prom, or any of my other class dances. But really, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t have high school angst?
I was given the lead in our high school play as a freshman (my first audition, ever), but I was so overwhelmed by the experience (and my inexperience), I choked, and the role was soon recast. A big lesson in humility. Some day I will write about this, but not today.
I tried and failed to seem cool many times. This was one of them.
I was awarded (along with MANY others) second place in my sixth grade science fair. Lesson: do your own work. Also: “static electricity” is not a crowd-pleaser.
I failed to receive a DEEPLY-desired Christmas gift. But as with most of these experiences, I got a pretty good story out of it.
Whew. I don’t know about you, but I feel better!