There was a big cross country race the other day. I really wanted my kids to be on the school team, to participate in the race. But for whatever reason -- whether a lack of interest or fear of failure -- they refused to try. My little guy is actually quite big for his age and he isn't the fastest runner. He told me he wanted to try out for track and field in the spring, but he had his doubts about whether it was for him.
"What if I come in last?" he asked me one day.
"Josh! I would be so proud of you if you came in last. It takes more courage, more strength, to be last at something than to be first," I told him. "But mostly I'd proud of you for trying. I don't care whether you're first or last. I will love you no matter what."
He's got several months to think over my words. To gather the courage to try. But in the meantime, I can model this behaviour myself, mostly by showing him that I can deal with rejection, by coming in last, myself.
I'm the perfect role model for the job. Sometimes it feels like I go from one form of rejection to another. A failed marriage was perhaps the ultimate rejection. As a freelance writer, I'm rejected nearly every day. And now that I've written a manuscript and am sending it around to agents and editors, I find my fate in limbo. I hold my breath. I cross my fingers. I pray. Then I get rejected again.
While I could act like a victim, be too afraid to pitch another story idea, I'd rather believe that I'm learning to develop a thick skin. To bounce back. To be resilient. I take a few minutes to mope, to feel like a loser, then I move on. I continue to hope for the best. To try. To think of a way to improve. Of another article to pitch. Another way to get my book into the world.
None of my failures are particularly private. I do it all on a sort of stage. My kids are my constant audience. By virtue of living with me, they often watch me deal with disappointment. Yet of all the things I hope they can learn from me, I hope it's the confidence to get back up.
"Boys," I said the other day. "Someone didn't like my book." I frowned and saw their little faces cloud over.
"What?" Ari said in disbelief. "How can people not like your book?"
I laughed. Gave them a hug. "Well, this is part of life," I said. "Things can't always go your way all the time. But you know what? You just have to work harder and get back on your feet. You can't let these things bring you down. You can't give up."
We sat down together to a nice dinner where conversation changed to what happened at school and the Blue Jays. I looked at their perfect little faces, I laughed at their jokes, and realized that I must be a success in life to have deserved their smiles, praise and unwavering love.
I want them to see my articles in print. I want them to see my book on the shelf one day. But if I never make it, I want them to know there's merit trying. The cross country season has passed us by, but there are still spelling tests, math tests, hockey games, baseball tryouts and track and field. They won't win every game. They won't make every team. But they will try again. I know they can.
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