If you are a mathematician, a magician or applying for a job to be a muffin maker, you have to sell your talent first. In fact, nothing happens until you sell something. That’s why you have to learn to cope with “No, no, no!”
How many gazillion times did John Grisham hear “no” before his novels became bestsellers? He had trouble giving away his first, A Time to Kill. Then he wrote The Firm. Dozens of novels later, the presses can’t print enough of Grisham’s books. Did “no” stop him?
Think about J.K. Rowling. She ought to have a flat nose from the countless times doors were slammed in her face. Did “no” stop the British author? Harry Potter made her the first author to become a billionaire by selling her words.
Closer to home is one of my favorite writers, Rick Bragg. When you look at Rick, you don’t think, “Now, there’s a muscle man.” There’s probably an F-150, a Silverado or a Ram in his driveway, but I doubt you’ll see him squat by its back bumper and heave the truck off the gravel.
But if there’s a better Southern wordsmith than the Alabamian, I haven’t turned those pages yet. I’ve put down a hot-buttered cathead biscuit, slathered with mayhaw jelly, to read his column in the back of Southern Living. He sells his stories with words that pop. Rick’s talent is as strong as three acres of onions. And I’m not talking about those sweet Vidalias.
Sample this line from GQ magazine following a visit to a mouth-watering New Orleans eatery, Franky & Johnny’s:
“I’ve always wanted washboard abs, but I love baby back ribs. Washboard abs are hard to get, but baby back ribs are only $6.99, and they come with one of those sweet-smelling napkins.”
I thought I wanted them, too.
When I turned 49, I set a goal of getting in better shape. I had to do 50 pushups before I hit the half-century mark. I did other exercises, too, on the way to topping out at 63 pushups before my birthday.
Once I surpassed my goal, I slacked off. Now, I’m back to huffing and puffing. I couldn’t do 70 on my 70th birthday, but I’m “selling” myself on “Yes, I can. Yes, I can.” But as for the washboard abs, well, the only way I’ll ever get those is to duct-tape my grandmother’s washboard to my stomach.
Physical strength is something you don’t gain one day and keep while sitting down. Just as you must keep toning your muscles, you have to strengthen your mind to deal with rejection after rejection. “No” never stopped John Grisham or J.K. Rowling, and it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing our goals, either.
And my friend Rick—a self-avowed survivor of a white-trash childhood—could have given up in grade school. Early on, teachers misjudged him and his abilities. Those rejections pushed him harder to sell his eventual Pulitzer Prize-winning words.
“No” can be a dream-dashing word, but it can also be the match to ignite your determination. I like Buddy Jewel’s country song “I Wanna Thank Everyone.” Go to YouTube and take a listen.
I have zero expectations about becoming a best-selling author, winning a Pulitzer Prize or ever having washboard abs. But my friend knows this: Any time Rick comes for a visit, I’ll buy both of us a plate of baby back ribs.