From Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul

You Can’t Afford to Doubt Yourself

The fear of rejection is worse than rejection itself.

Nora Profit

On a spring evening some years ago, while living in New York, I decided to take in an off-Broadway musical where I heard Salome Bey sing for the first time. I was enthralled. I believed I had just discovered the next Sarah Vaughn.

The moment was magical. Even though half the seats were empty, Salome’s voice filled the room and brought the theater to life. I had never witnessed anything quite like it. I was so moved by Salome’s performance, yet disappointed about the sparse audience, I decided to write an article to help promote her.

Struggling to contain my excitement, the next day I phoned the theater where Salome Bey was appearing and unabashedly acted like a professional writer:

“May I speak with Salome Bey, please?”

“Just one moment, please.”

“Hello, this is Salome.”

“Miss Bey, this is Nora Profit. I’m writing an article for Essence magazine, spotlighting your singing achievements. Is it possible for us to meet so that we might talk about your career?”

Did I say that? Essence is going to have me arrested, I thought. I don’t know a thing about her singing achievements. My inner voice shouted, You have really done it this time!

“Why, of course,” said Salome. “I’m cutting my fourth album next Tuesday. Why don’t you meet me at the studio? And bring along your photographer.”

Bring my photographer! I thought, my confidence fading rapidly. I’ve really tied myself in a noose this time. I don’t even know anyone who owns a camera.

“While I’m thinking about it,” continued Salome, “Galt McDermot, producer of Hair, Dude and Highway Life will be performing a benefit with me at the Staten Island Church-on-the-Hill. So why don’t you plan to come to that, too, and I’ll introduce you to him.”

“Umm—of course,” I said, trying to sound professional. “That will add an extra dimension to the article.”

An extra dimension? How would you know? snapped the nagging voice in my head.

“Thank you, Miss Bey,” I said, bringing the inquiry to a close. “I’ll see you next Tuesday.”

When I hung up, I was scared out of my mind. I felt as though I had jumped into a pool of quicksand and was about to be swallowed up with no chance at salvaging my dignity.

The next few days flashed by quickly. I made an emergency run to the library. Who is this Galt McDermot anyway? And I frantically searched for anyone with a 35mm camera. A real photographer was out of the question. After all, I had spent all my extra cash on the Broadway theater ticket.

Then I lucked out. I learned my friend Barbara had become quite an accomplished photographer, so after I begged and pleaded, Barbara agreed to accompany me to the interview.

At both the recording session and the church benefit, Barbara clicked away, while I, a bundle of nerves, sat there looking very pensive, taking notes on a yellow pad, asking questions that all began with, “Can you tell me . . . ”

Soon it was all over, and once outside the church, I ran frantically down the street, wanting to hail an ambulance because I thought I was going to die from the stress. I hailed a taxi instead.

Safe at home, I calmed down and began writing. But with every word I wrote, a small, stern voice inside me kept scolding: You lied! You’re no writer! You haven’t written anything. Why, you’ve never even written a good grocery list. You’ll never pull this off!

I soon realized that fooling Salome Bey was one thing, but faking a story for Essence, a national magazine, was impossible. The pressure was almost unbearable.

Putting my heart into it, I struggled for days with draft after draft—rewriting and reediting my manuscript countless times. Finally, I stuffed my neatly typed, double-spaced manuscript into a large envelope, added my SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), and dropped the package into a mailbox. As the mailman drove away, I wondered how long it would take before I’d get the Essence editor’s unqualified “YUCK!” reply.

It didn’t take long. Three weeks later there it was, my manuscript—returned in an envelope with my own handwriting. What an insult! I thought. How could I have ever thought that I could compete in a world of professional writers who make their living writing? How stupid of me!

Knowing I couldn’t face the rejection letter with all the reasons why the editor hated my manuscript, I threw the unopened envelope into the nearest closet and promptly forgot about it, chalking up the whole ordeal as a bad experience.

Five years later, while cleaning out my apartment preparing to move to Sacramento, California, to take a job in sales, I came across an unopened envelope addressed to me in my own handwriting. Why would I send myself a package? I thought. To clear up the mystery, I quickly opened the envelope and read the editor’s letter in disbelief:

Dear Ms. Profit,

Your story on Salome Bey is fantastic. We need some additional quotes. Please add those and return the article immediately. We would like to publish your story in the next issue.

Shocked, it took me a long time to recover. Fear of rejection cost me dearly. I lost at least five hundred dollars and having my article appear in a major magazine—proof I could be a professional writer. More importantly, fear cost me years of enjoyable and productive writing. Today, I am celebrating my sixth year as a full-time freelance writer with more than one hundred articles sold. Looking back on this experience, I learned a very important lesson: You can’t afford to doubt yourself.

Nora Profit

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