Rejection’s Bright Side

In my 13 years as a freelance translator, I’ve been selected to work for more projects/customers/clients than I can remember. On the flipside, I have also had my fair share of rejection. Rejection can feel, well, rejecting, but it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be very good.

The most poignant reminder of that came to me last spring. This was in the midst of Japan’s first emergency declared in the COVID-19 pandemic. After focusing solely on translation for more than a decade, I have been periodically exploring opportunities in other lines of work, not so much for the money, but for the opportunity to do something new, different, and interesting. One of these potential avenues was related to travel writing, which I have been particularly active in pursuing for the past few years. The project I was bidding to join would involve writing content for signs displayed at sightseeing spots across Japan. This was super exciting to me because the subject matter is something I’m very much interested in, going back to my college days when I studied the history of many different countries, including Japan.

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Caption: A sign about my local shrine, perhaps unrelated to this project.

To join the project, I was required to submit a couple samples of my writing consisting of brief descriptions of three sightseeing spots. Two were chosen for me, and the other I was free to select myself. The approach I took to this writing was similar to the one I take with translation, which is to make the audience as engaged as possible. Now, with translation, there is not so much freedom to insert my own ideas, because basically translation is copying another person’s ideas from one language into another. With this writing project, however, I would have much more leeway to decide what goes in and what does not. Or so I thought…

As it turned out, what I considered interesting and compelling for foreign tourists to Japan was not what the client wanted. I should’ve known that, however, based on the criteria given to me beforehand. With hubris, I figured my writing would be so awesome that the evaluators would not penalize me so much for deviating from the criteria. The result, though, was that I was wrong, I was rejected, and I was unable to participate in this project.

Although I have experienced various forms of rejection throughout my freelancing career, this one stung quite a bit. Perhaps it was because I was doing something new and my naivete led me to assume that my ideas were really fantastic. Obviously, somebody else thought otherwise.

I felt down for a long time, but then I got over it. In fact, I realized that this rejection was actually a good thing. I came to the conclusion that if I were to join the project and to follow the criteria by the letter, then I would not have enjoyed it very much at all. In fact, I might have even hated it. Therefore, being rejected possibly saved me a lot of grief.

Maybe it’s best I keep working at home by myself as a translator, which I’m happy doing. And if I do want to do some travel writing, I’ll either pursue it on my own terms or for a customer that’s a better fit.

When we get rejected for a job, it can hurt, but I suspect that in many cases, it’s actually for the best. I’ve been turned down for a teaching job in the States that I probably wouldn’t have been happy with. I’ve been fired from a job that definitely was not right for me. I was basically fired from my last interpreting assignment in the middle of the day because my ability was unacceptable. (Decided to give up on interpreting after that!)

I even got rejected from a game localization agency a couple years back when I was pondering a return to that field for the fun of it. I couldn’t believe it! The same agency had actually hired me several years before, but this time I had failed their test. But after reading so many rants by freelance translators who work in video game localization, I’m actually glad I didn’t get back into it. It mostly seems miserable.

If we are able to see the silver lining, then these experiences of rejection can offer us viable lessons. Of course, there’s no field on your LinkedIn profile for “Jobs I Never Got” and nobody would ever expect you to put that on a resume, so it’s hard to directly show off how being turned down has helped you grow. I think the best way we can take advantage of these lessons is to stay away from work that is not a good fit, because if we pursue the opportunities that are actually more suited to us, we are bound to make a better impression.

Now, I’m not saying you should give up on your dreams just because you got turned down once. If you truly believe you are good at something or that you can be good at it, then maybe the person who declined to give you a shot was the one who made the mistake. Only you can be the judge of that.

Update
I mentioned in a post back in January that I want to work on my blog more regularly. Well, my last post was on January 20th, nearly two months ago, so that obviously hasn’t panned out as expected. But it’s for a good reason. You see, I’ve been fulfilling my creative cravings with a different project, recording music. If you love heavy metal, check it out here. If not, never mind.

Anyway, I think it’s better if I just update this blog when I feel like it. When you force yourself to be creative minus the inspiration, the results are not so great. That probably explains why a lot of musical artists release relatively bad second or third albums because they’ve used up all their good ideas.


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