Monday, September 13, 2010

Rejection and Fearlessness

When I was little, I think my parents assumed I would one day be on stage and screen. I started singing lessons when I was 4, was reading and performing poetry and plays in church and school at age 5 and led the children's choir and youth groups at an early age. I was never afraid of stepping onto the stage and cracking a joke, singing a song or performing in a play. I have always loved the limelight and rarely suffered from stage fright.

As I got older, the fearlessness continued. I would always throw myself into whatever I did with reckless abandon and found it pretty easy to adapt to new environments. When I was 15, I decided that I needed a job. My parents both worked and while we were never without food or clothing, I wanted to earn a paycheck. I heard that the local Winn Dixie hired 15-year-olds as bag girls and bag boys so I went and applied (this has since changed and I swear it wasn't because of me). When the manager came out to talk to me he gave me the once-over took my application in his hands and sighing said, "I'm sorry kid. But you have to be 15 to work here."

"I AM 15," I told him quickly moving to stand between him and the door to his office. Pulling my ID out of back pocket, I handed it to him and pointed at my date of birth. He looked me up and down again and asked me how much I could lift. I can't even remember what I told him but I know it was not a number. It was likely something along the lines of "what do you need me to lift?"

He kept trying to find something to reject my application and finally I just looked at him and said what I say in my head every time I go for a job, "You need me. I know you need me and you know you need me but for some reason you don't think I can do the job. Give me a chance and I'll prove to you I can do this job better than anyone!" Did I mention I've always been a good salesperson? Like Tommy Boy and his father before him, I can sell a ketchup popsicle to a lady wearing white gloves.

At some point, that 15-year-old fearless kid who came home with more tips than anyone and who's held down a job since she was 15, started to fade in a barrage of rejections I didn't quite always understand. As child, I was never rejected. I wasn't doted upon, don't get me wrong. There were plenty of people in my life (especially in the church but that's another story for another day) to tell me no but very few people rejected me outright. Believe it or not, it wasn't until I started applying for colleges with my average SAT and less than stellar ACT scores that I started to feel the true sting of rejection. When I hit the job market again in the early 90s, I found more rejection. Some harsher than others and suddenly the stage was enormous, the crowd seemed mocking and the world too vast to traverse.

Eventually, I remembered that 15-year-old girl who would take the proverbial bull by the horns and make it behave. It wasn't about what others thought of me, or what they thought they knew about me, it's always been about what I allow others to see.