When I was 16, I asked the same girl on a date four Friday afternoons in a row. I’d spend the whole week psyching myself up, thinking about what I’d say, how I’d say it and what measures I’d take to keep my perspiration under control. Perhaps the saddest (or funniest) part of the whole thing was that for those first three Fridays, I thought she really did have to walk her goldfish, or do her calc-o-nometry homework. It wasn’t until the fourth time that I was finally hit by that ugly, dinged-up, 2002 PT Cruiser we call rejection.
Waiting in line for some velvet-roped, Hollywood nightclub the other night, I saw Robert Pattinson stroll on in, bypassing the line. Out of nowhere I saw a flash of dim headlights — that damn PT Cruiser again. Then, bang! I’m not getting into this place. I’m not wanted here. A friendly reminder that Los Angeles is the rejection capital of the world.
Rejection is a sour mix of disappointment, discouragement and embarrassment. It’s cunning. It enjoys the thrill of surprising you at a girl’s locker or outside a nightclub. And sometimes, it prefers a more subtle approach.
There was a “prophecy” section in my 8th grade yearbook, and I remember being very excited to flip through and see what the committee had dreamed up for me. Most kids were given fairytale futures where they’d be hosting shows on Comedy Central, garnering a platinum album or winning Olympic gold. Me? The committee decided that I was destined to open up a hot dog stand called “Frank’s Franks.” That’s the best possible scenario you can see me in? The kid whose shirt bottom is popping out through his fly is going to win a Nobel Prize, and all I’m going to do is sell hot dogs?
It was as if my dreams were being rejected. The other kids were getting to enter the nightclub of cool futures with Robert Pattinson, and I was left holding a hot dog in the parking lot.
Even after years of practice, I still feel that tinge of shame when I realize I’m not wanted. Don’t we all? Whether it’s girls, employers or a cat walking away when I reach out to pet it, I’m sent back in time, reincarnated as that goofy 16-year-old.
No one likes being rejected. What did I do wrong? Why don’t they like me?
It’s easy to hide from the rejection monster. You just stop putting yourself out there. You don’t take chances. You settle. You’ll never have to peel yourself off the pavement after being run over by a PT Cruiser.
Broken dreams and dampened spirits hide behind every LA corner because it’s hard to be told over and over that you suck. When people say, “Your script is great, but it’s not right for us right now,” it’s like hearing the girl you like say, “I’d love to hang out tonight, but I have to drive my sister to A&P.”
“You were great, but we went with someone else for the role of ‘Man on Escalator 3.’” Was I? Was I really?
Sometimes it’s tempting to think about what it’d be like to just move out to New Mexico, take in the scenery and not have to deal with all that heartache. I do love desert topography. And those sunsets…
But what’s worse, being the guy who doesn’t get into the club or being the guy who just stays home?
Much like we wonder about the tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it, I wonder about the script sitting on the hard drive, with no one brave enough to send it. If no one ever hears a story, is it really a story?
There’s nothing tangible to lose through rejection — I wasn’t going out with that girl whether I asked her out 72 times or zero times. It’s just hard to step out of your comfort zone. It makes us too vulnerable for our own liking.
Living in Los Angeles only amplifies my participation in a game that we’re all constantly playing. We’re all wagering our comfort with the hopes of winning our dreams, whether it be a date, a platinum album or the Nobel Prize. The more comfort you’re willing to wager, the more rejection you’re willing to risk facing, the bigger your dreams become.
If you ask that particular girl out, sure, she might say no. But if you never build up the stones to ask her out, you’re saying no to yourself. You’re rejecting yourself.
If I never ask an exec to lunch, or send out a script, or get up on a stage, I’m rejecting my own dreams. The choice is simple: Laugh in the face of rejection, live boldly, abandon my comfort zone. Or, I can go home and open up “Frank’s Franks.”
Frank Marasco is a first-year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.