Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rejection is Found to Boost Creativity

"Research conducted by Cornell and Johns Hopkins University researchers has shown that people who are able to handle rejection in the proper manner--by shrugging it off and blazing their own, independent trails--can experience heightened creativity and even commercial success through an ability to eschew mainstream thought and groupthink and instead pursue their own creative solutions to problems. They tested their hypothesis through a series of experiments in which they manipulated the experience of social rejection; subjects in the study were led to believe that everyone in a group exercise could choose whom to work with on a team project, only to be told later that no one had selected them for a team.

"For people with an independent mindset, this rejection inspired them to go on and complete the exercise in a way that was deemed more creative (we’re not exactly sure how “creativity” was measured). For people without an independent mindset--well, we’re not really sure what kind of impact this exclusion had on them (hopefully someone later told them it was just an experiment, it was all in good fun, and really, everyone here thinks you’re great)."
Read more here.

This is good news for writers, right? Writers get rejected all the time. Well, technically speaking, the work of writers get rejected, the writer her/himself is not being personally rejected.

I definitely feel the push rejection gives me. Actually, I've had a pretty high percentage of  my work accepted, which I directly relate to past rejections. It drove me to seek better resources (if you're a writer, I highly recommend the website Duotrope- you can track all your work, submissions, stats, and find great places to publish your stuff!), and better hone my craft. I have learned to seek calls for submissions and write specifically to those, for a much higher rate of success. I have always looked forward to collecting a staggering pile of rejections letters (I could not foresee email at the age of ten, or even twenty) as a sign of reaching my goal of becoming a professional author. Dr. Seuss collected 23 letters of rejection before he finally found a publisher. Stephen King also kept a bulletin board full of pinned rejection letters above his work space for years. Receiving rejection letters puts one in good literary company.

But this study is about social rejection, more than any other. Which brings me back to middle school-- the breeding grounds of social experience and self-esteem issues.

Being placed in the "Gifted & Talented" class meant that, basically, the same 25-30 kids were together in each class period all day, every year. I considered these classmates friends; we invited each other to birthday parties, shared jokes in class, and mingled pleasantly during lunch and recess. At the time, the brands of clothing to be worn were OP shorts, Calvin Klein or Palmetto jeans, Izod shirts, chinos, and penny loafers. I tried to fit in, like most kids do, as best I could. Many of the brand name jeans were not made for curvy girls, so I lost points there. Knock-offs were often substituted in my house in place of some of the pricier clothes. But I felt comfortable with myself, and on par with my classmates and friends.

But one Friday evening, all that changed for me.

Fridays were the night that my family went out. Dinner at Burger King or Friendly's, followed by shopping at the mall. (Fancy, I know!) Dad usually headed off to Sears, Mom and my brother to other departments stores, and Grandma and I did our own thing, which mostly included people watching from a bench in the center intersection of the mall. That's where I encountered a group of classmates from school: about eight of them, all of which I considered friends, all out together. I hadn't been invited. I spoke with them, and some of them seemed to be slightly embarrassed, like they were getting caught doing something, which, in a way, they were. Turned out, they did this sort of outing every Friday night. I had never been invited. Not that I could go, necessarily, or that I even  wanted to, but being asked is nice. I distinctly remember that moment, when something clicked in my brain, and I knew that no matter what kind of clothes I wore, or how many birthday parties I spent with these kids, I would never be part of the group. I was different from them. And I always would be.

So, I decided, then and there, that I would just go ahead and be my different self. Within a week, I had cut my hair and dyed it orange. I wore all the crazy '80's colors and patterns I wanted, with no concern to conformity. I knew that it no longer mattered. Whatever opinions my classmates may have of me, was their business, not mine. 

And to this day, I am different from those kids. Most of them grew up, went to local colleges, got jobs in offices or schools, got married, had kids, and I hope they're all happy. But my path was different. Europe was my college, I've never worked in an office (and have been my own boss for most of my adult life), and I'm not have kids. I did get married, though, and he's as different as I am. What was that quote from Dr. Seuss? Oh yeah:

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

Next time you're rejected, on any level, do an internal assessment and make sure it was from something you actually wanted to be accepted for. And if it was, let it be your motivation for trying harder. Or, differently. Because everything takes practice, and any mistakes made just contribute towards the process of elimination on the path to finding what does work, what does get accepted, what you really want, and who you really are. 

Blessings on your journey through the forests of rejection and acceptance.

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