Failing to Succeed
Last week, on Father’s Day, my daughter, her friend, her friend’s father and I took a trip to the Crane Estate above the bluffs of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Richard T. Crane’s property (also known as Castle Hill) came to exemplify the American Country Place Era with its farm and estate buildings, fashioned grounds and gardens, and diverse natural areas. During the Great Depression Crane did a great deal for the town of Ipswich, employing hundreds of residents and contributing to the town’s well being in numerous other ways. The generous Crane family donated nearly 2,000 acres, including Hog Island and Crane Beach, to the Trustees of Reservations so we all could enjoy this extraordinary land.
Anyway, it was a beautiful Sunday morning and I marveled at the landscaping (really, landsculpting) of the estate. I remarked to the other dad about this amazing artistry of design and learned the designer was none other than Frederick Law Omlstead.
I’d known of Omlstead’s work on Central Park, Boston’s Common and also its “Emerald Necklace,” but had no idea of his work in Ipswich (the next town over from where I live). I began looking into the life of this designer and discovered many interesting facts, but one in particular stood out as a lesson all careerists could learn from.
Before he designed Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead had been a failure at five professions. That’s correct – five. As reported by Michael J. Lewis in a Wall Street Journal review of Genius of Place by Justin Martin, Olmstead had been a surveyor, clerk, sailor, scientific farmer and publisher. He had also failed as “special” student at Yale. However, as it turned out, Olmstead’s experiences and observations during his travels during “this roster of failures would turn out to be the best possible of resumes for the varied achievements of his career” as a “landscape architect … a term he invented.”
In addition to Central Park, those achievements included “Chicago’s Riverside Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the Boston Fens and Yosemite National Park. Whoa. Nice rebounds.
“Failure” is closely related to rejection.
I have become very familiar with rejection over the years. I’ve had editors tell me my writing is boring, booking agents tell me my music won’t draw, and distributors tell me my product is too unusual. When you work by yourself, rejection can really take a toll on you if you’re not careful, because there is no one around to laugh about it with you. After a while, it can stop being funny.
I have learned some tricks over time for coping with rejection. The advice that follows may save you some anguish. It saves me anguish – daily.
- Expect some rejection. If you expect every pitch to be a sale, every person to be nice to you, and every proposal to win you business, you are going to take rejection really hard. Rejection is part of life; you have to accept that and expect to be rejected. Remember, every record company in Britain initially rejected the Beatles; same with the Rolling Stones. Thicken your skin and hang tough.
- Celebrate rejection. When I first moved to Boston, my mentor told me to think of every rejection as bringing me one step closer to success. He was talking about odds. If you have a failure or setback, it means you’ve gotten one setback out of the way and you are therefore closer to getting what you want. In other words, the more no’s you hear, the closer you are to a yes.
- Do not be upset by rejection. Rejection is a fact, but how you feel about being rejected is not a fact. People automatically assume that because you are rejected, you have to feel terrible. But rejection is just rejection – nothing more, nothing less. People have all kinds of reasons for rejecting you. Sometimes it has to do with you; many times it doesn’t. Often it’s just a matter of timing (think, The Beatles).
- Do not be at other people’s mercy. If you are always looking to other people for approval or to verify that you are worthy, your life will be a roller coaster. When you get a lot of acceptance, you’ll feel great; when you get a lot of rejection, you’ll feel terrible. When someone rejects you in a work situation, it doesn’t mean you are no good; it means you (or your idea) got rejected. Period. Move on.
- Don’t globalize. It is important to make sure rejection doesn’t wreak havoc on your psyche. Therapists call this “globalizing”. It means that when you fail at one thing, you think everything is terrible. To avoid globalizing, give yourself a reality check when you suffer a rejection. Make a list, mentally or on paper, of what is going well in your business or your life, to remind you of your successes as well as failures.
- Read the following passage (a lot). He failed in business in ‘31. He was defeated when he ran for the legislature in ‘32. He failed once again in business in ‘34. His fiancee died in ‘35. He had a nervous breakdown in ‘36. He went back into politics and was defeated in the election of ‘38. He decided to run for Congress and was defeated in ‘43. He was defeated for Congress in ‘46. He was defeated for Congress in ‘48. He was defeated for the Senate in ‘55. He was defeated for vice president in ‘56. He was defeated for the Senate in ‘58.
After that, you’d say this guy was through, right? He was “all washed up,” wasn’t he? No, not at all. He went on to be elected President in 1860. The man, of course, was Abraham Lincoln.