A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Elizabeth recently tried out for the top choir at her high school. She didn't make it.

Of course, that's OK with me. She's still one of my all-time favorite singers, along with her big sisters Amy and Andrea and Nat King Cole. I've already asked her to sing at my funeral (which may come sooner than expected if she reads this). I don't care what choir she's in.

But Elizabeth does care. No matter how hard she tires to act otherwise, I know that she's disappointed. So I tried to comfort her by telling her about Abraham Lincoln, who lost more elections than he won. "But this wasn't an election, Dad," she said. "This was a teacher who I respect evaluating my talent and saying that I'm not good enough."

So I told her how Fred Astaire was once dismissed by a talent scout, who said of him: "Balding, not much of a singer, can dance a little."

"But Fred Astaire could go to another studio where they appreciated his talent," she said. "This is the only choir like this at my high school."

So I told her about Wilbur and Orville Wright, who invited dozens of acquaintances to watch them fly into history at Kitty Hawk. Only a handful came. "But the Wright brothers could fly anyway and prove everyone wrong," she said. "I can't force my way into the choir."

So I told her about my week, which included “sorry but we’re moving in another direction” notices from two newspapers that previously carried this column, a letter from my book publisher reminding me that I still owe THEM for the book they published a few years ago and a meeting with a potential new employer that resulted in . . . well . . . nothing.

It didn't help. And by the time I was through with my litany of personal rejection, I was almost depressed, too.

But not for me. I've grown accustomed to rejection. Sure, it stings a little. Sometimes it stings a lot. But I've learned that the sting eventually fades away, and that there is very little that a good night's sleep -- or a good meal or a good movie -- can't help you forget.

But watching my children face rejection is something else. Like most parents, my natural inclination is to try to protect my kids from life's vicissitudes. But you and I both know that that's impossible. Everyone experiences rejection sometimes. Great actors have lost great roles. Great writers have received rejection notices. Great athletes have been cut or traded. Great scientists have heard their theories ridiculed. Great cooks have been asked to pass the ketchup.

And even if we could protect our children from all trauma, it probably wouldn't be the right thing to do. Life is about learning and growing, and the sad reality is we probably learn more from the bad stuff that happens to us than we do from the good stuff. Adversity brings texture and depth to our lives, and makes our triumphs -- when they come -- all the sweeter.

Besides, who's to say that occasional rejection is a bad thing? It keeps us humble -- and hungry. It's only when we allow rejection to discourage us from trying that it is fatal to our dreams and aspirations. But if we take the pain and frustration of rejection and channel all of that energy into renewed determination to achieve our goals by working harder and more effectively, it can actually turn out to be a positive thing.

It worked that way for Babe Ruth, whose best years came after he was rejected by the Red Sox and traded to the Yankees. It worked that way for Albert Einstein, whose world-changing discoveries came after he was rejected by teachers who thought he was “peculiar.” It worked that way for Margaret Mitchell, who finally published "Gone With the Wind" after being rejected by dozens of potential publishers. And I suspect it will work that way for Elizabeth.

Whether she makes the top choir next year, or not.

Joseph Walker

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