“Do you have any pictures on your wall?” he asked over the phone.
“Uh… one?” I replied.
“No.” I paced the length of the kitchen, taking a mental inventory of the hanging décor in my bedroom. “Oh, a plant. I think.”
“Take it down. All of it. Plants, shelves, pictures of your grandma. Whatever it is, take it down and prepare to wallpaper your room with rejection letters. And when you run out of space, move to the next room and paper that room with rejection letters. And keep doing that until your whole house is covered in rejection letters. Then we can start talking about a writing career.”
Thus my agent shepherded me into the world of books and all things publishing.
That was six years ago. Maybe seven. I don’t know, really. It’s all a blur of rejection letters—emails, really, which adds an extra step to the whole wallpapering process, since I have to print the emails first. And, nope, having two books published does not in any way spare you. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because let me tell you, no one composes more scathing rejection letters than the big wigs in the literary world—assuming you get something other than a canned response, that is. And if you’re really lucky, you might get a rejection in person.
Like I did. In November.
Okay, so it wasn’t a true rejection. I wasn’t submitting anything. It was more of a consultation. With a senior writer. At The New Yorker. (Yep, the The New Yorker.) We met at a coffee shop in the Upper East Side of Manhattan to chat about writing, and for no less than a full hour he
You guys. Until you’ve had one of the greatest non-fiction writers of all time pummel you with soul-crushing eloquence and silver-tongued oratory dedicated to your grand and bountiful shortcomings, you’ve never really lived.
The good news: searing derision is par for the course for The New Yorker hopefuls or anyone who has been with the publication for less than a solid twenty years.
So I’m considering this a win.
Still, it can be demoralizing to face defeat (even seemingly) or setbacks (literally) time after time. In the pursuit of a career. In the quest for a fitness goal or a weight goal or a time goal. In the building of a family. In the restoration of a family. In the mending of a relationship. Even in the redemption of ourselves. After years or even decades of deliberate effort, we can become disheartened. Dispirited. Done. The word “quit” suddenly takes on a comfy, almost sublime, tone. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? you think. Quitting isn’t so bad. After all, I gave it the old college try!
And just when you’re ready to let yourself off the hook, you remember that you’re a runner, and you have literally trained yourself not to quit. Day in. Day out. You have drilled the words DON’T QUIT into your very soul. And now, at the worst possible moment—as least as far as quitting is concerned—you realize, whether you wanted it to or not, the sport has made you stronger. You remember that workout. That marathon. That alarm that goes off at 4:30 in the morning. That long run in the snow. That 5K PR. You remember all those times you didn’t quit.
And you realize you have made a terrible mistake.
You see, while you were out gallivanting with the sport of running (and looking for bathrooms), you inadvertently sculpted your character in a certain, peculiar fashion. Specifically, you molded your psyche and chiseled your mentality into a strong-willed, self-disciplined individual who refuses to give up just because things are hard or because an obstacle or ten gets hurled your way. The strength you’ve built through running has seeped into other parts of your life.
Please, you beg. Please, let me quit. Wouldn’t it be nice to quit? Wouldn’t it be easy to quit? Wouldn’t it be delightful to do something that’s, oh, I don’t know, not uncomfortable and unpleasant for a change?
“No can do, muchacho,” running says back. And then it goes all Rick Astley on you and puts on a trench coat (and, really, a whole lineup of wardrobe changes) and starts singing.
We're no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment's what I'm thinking of…
Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you
For some reason, I thought “Never gonna let you quit!” was one of the lines in the chorus. It’s not. Still. The visual (and audio) is real. The sport of running, in a blazer, pointing at me. Singing. Winking. Snapping. Pointing at me again.
“Never gonna give you up…”
I get it.
“Never gonna let you down…”
No, seriously. I get it.
“Never gonna run around and desert you…”
And just like that, despite being worn down, worn out, and wholly unmotivated, I keep going. Because, quite simply, I know I can. I’ve been in this spot before. I know the routine. The race doesn’t really begin until mile twenty anyway. And at the end of the day, I am a runner. And runners train to keep going when they most want to quit.
Remind me in my next life to pick a different sport.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.