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Embracing the One Thing I Thought I Couldn’t Bear

If you hear, "No," and you're relieved, maybe you didn't want it

On the way home from church tonight, I got a call from a man I’d been desperately hoping to do some business with. I’d answered their RFP with a clear outline of all my strengths, nearly half of them in a business I’d hoped I never be in again. But it was a grand opportunity, and I still believe in brass rings. If you don’t reach, you’ll never get one.

Now he said that they were “going in a different direction,” and I understood. He still wanted to talk about some of my proposal and create an infrastructure to incorporate those ideas into the business, with me consulting, and then possibly coming on board. I was so relieved.

That’s right, relieved. The parts of the proposal he liked best were the only parts I was authentically vibrating with excitement over. The opportunities he and I talked over on the phone during that walk home were the ones that had kept me up all night for four days, writing out a vision. The rest of the proposal was about work I’d done for years, and didn’t really like.

“Hallelujah,” I said to my daughter in the next phone call. “I’m a failure.”

“I’ll pour the drinks,” she said, and soon I joined her at home.

“To another job I didn’t get,” I toasted her.

“To another job you didn’t want,” she amended. “To the comic book I didn’t finish on time.” She raised her glass.

“Because you didn’t like the direction it was going,” I said, and took a sip.

We weren’t celebrating failures all night. We were celebrating all the striving we both keep doing, and winnowing away every so-called missed opportunity in search of the things we really love. I love sitting at home and writing. She loves to draw—and is getting her MFA in Comics.

“Why don’t I feel worse?” I asked her.

“Because you did your best,” she said. “And you told me that as long as you’re in there pitching with everything you’ve got, the results don’t matter.”

I believed her. I believe me. When I turned in that proposal three days ago, I saw the project I was building already finished, and knew exactly how to proceed. I always have to fall a love a little with an idea, or I can’t lift a finger. This was a full-blown infatuation. I thought that if they turned it down, I’d die.

It was a brilliant proposal, but those who had sent out the RFP saw right through me. They lit on the parts I was passionate about, and turned over the other parts to someone else—someone who really wanted that job.

Which is why, in this afterlight of not getting the position, I now need to revisit all my “failures” and see if I was reaching out for something I actually didn’t want. Or if I was reaching out for something to pay the bills, which is honorable enough, but not if I was pretending it was something I was passionate about. Neither of these approaches will yield results I really want. Both will put me in the path for the real failure: Finding myself doing something I don’t like for reasons that were fleeting at best.

I’m getting out my files and using another mantra I taught my daughter: “Stop lying to myself.” It’s the chant we’ve used to rid our closets of clothes that were too small, too large, or too outré; it’s the chant we use when we rip out real estate ads for homes in parts of the country where I’ll never want to live. I’m paying attention, and finding out how many times I’ve put myself forward as a candidate not because I could, but because I wanted to. And that’s going to guide every step I take from here on out.

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