A few years ago, I emailed an author I know to ask if he'd be willing to put me in touch with one of my favorite writers, with whom he was friends. I told him I was really inspired by her work and wanted to learn more about how she'd gotten started.
He wrote back instantly and politely said he wasn't the right guy for that and wouldn't be able to do so.
Immediately, I felt ashamed.
I berated myself for thinking we were better friends than we were - embarrassed for needing something from him. It felt vulnerable to ask for a favor and, to be told no so quickly, I felt exposed. I went over the email again and again, wondering if I had been unreasonable. Telling myself I was ridiculous for thinking I knew him better than I really did.
Deep down, I knew both my request and his response were reasonable. We were both playing with the cards in our hands - able to see our own sides but not what the other had. But, instead of believing those truths, I spiraled, panicked that I'd become persona non grata, unable to ever publish a book or pursue my dreams because of an email I'd sent on a whim.
Later that day, the website of the author with whom I'd wanted to speak crashed and I could no longer access it. My first thought was: oh my gosh, they cut me off. They won't even let me read her work anymore!
At that point in my life, I took so few risks that I was rarely rejected. I played within all of my comfort zones - taking on projects at work I knew I could handle, asking very little of others, never getting told no or rejected. If you never ask for anything, you never get rejected. It was simple and safe.
But, it was also stale. It meant that when I did ask for something and was told no, I spiraled in shame. I wasn't resilient in the face of even the smallest rejection or failure.
Every night at dinner, Chris and I both say one high, one low, one surprise and one failure or risk from the day. Early in our relationship, we realized we both struggle with perfectionism as a way to avoid failure and rejection. So now, we force ourselves to take a risk each day. If we didn't take a risk or fail at anything, we ask ourselves why we played it so safe.
When you're afraid of failing, you don't ever try anything. You map out every single step, permanently scared of taking one. You stand on the edge of the cliff, checking your parachute over and over, confirming that it will, in fact, open. But, you never give it the chance to do so. You never give yourself the chance to fly.
These days, rejection is easy to find. I'm submitting articles to be published, asking people to be on their podcasts and constantly in need of help. My fate is often in the hands of someone else's busy schedule, overflowing inbox and willing heart.
I'm learning that the old adages aren't always true. Sometimes, you jump and the net doesn't appear. Sometimes fortune doesn't favor the bold. But, the beauty is in learning to stick the landing, even when things didn't go as planned.
I'm learning to take no in stride and receive thanks but no thanks with grace. And I'm learning that when you do take a risk and it works out, it's a lot more exciting than sitting in your cube, playing it safe ever will be.