A few years ago I was at a coffee shop and I started chatting with the guy next to me about what I do for a living. Which, at that time, was: barely getting by trying to be a full-time outdoor writer after recently quitting my last full-time job.
The guy said he was interested in photography and would love to somehow do some adventure photography someday. I said That’s great, I have a few friends and acquaintances who are photographers and lots of them have similar stories on how they got started: get outside with friends, shoot a ton of photos, and figure out a way to sell them.
He said Yeah, but it’s hard because magazines are hard to get into and I I don’t know anyone at any companies and ________ and ________. I said Sure, yeah, it’s definitely hard to get your foot in the door at first but maybe it’s something you pursue part-time for a while and see where it goes and then eventually it could grow to full-time—that’s what I did. And he said Yeah, But This Reason I Can’t Do It and That Reason I Can’t Do It.
I decided I better get to working on whatever was on my laptop screen instead of talking to the guy, because I wasn’t going to be able to talk him out of any or all the reasons he couldn’t do something he theoretically wanted to do someday.
I used to collect rejection letters from magazines, book publishers, and literary agencies. This was back when you used to write letters to people to pitch them your idea for a magazine article or book. I got them from Outside, Backpacker, Sierra, and dozens of literary agents and publishers, all pretty much the same message: three or four sentences saying “thanks, but no thanks, and good luck.”
The first rejections really crushed me—I was young, naive, and had poured my heart into crafting pitches that I was sure that magazine or publisher would love. But, they didn’t. And they really didn’t seem to care how that made me feel (although I’m not exactly sure how they would have communicated that—maybe sending an intern in person to deliver a hug and an encouraging pat on the back?).
Last spring, when I was putting together photos for my book tour slide show, I found a file of rejection letters, probably 40 of them. Which was not even close to all of the rejection letters I received back when people used to write letters. I laughed, then laid them all out on the floor and took a photo of them.
Fortunately for me, the publishing industry is full of stories about bestselling books that were rejected more than 100 times (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, for one), so I just figured that was all part of it. I kept writing and reading adventure stories and books, and noticed they all had one thing in common: Nobody ever wrote, “And then it got really hard, so we quit.”
Everybody has an idea or twenty, of things we’d love to do, if only. If only we had a little more money, or a little more spare time, or a little more space in the garage. We could do that trip, climb that mountain, start that business, write that book, make that film. We get that thing done, or we don’t get it done. Whether the reasons are valid or just lame excuses, the thing gets done or it doesn’t.
People want to see you do the thing that makes you come alive. Nobody wants to listen to you complain and list all the reasons why you can’t do it. (Probably a few people in your life will listen, but not for that long.) Whether it’s running an ultramarathon or learning to play the guitar, if you want to do something enough, you’ll find a way around all those reasons, or through them. If you don’t want to do it enough, you can have a seat at the bar with all the other people who would have done something great, if only. Pick a cliche, life is hard, life isn’t fair, nobody owes you anything. I’ll tell you what, it’s easy to sit and drink beer and talk about doing shit. It’s hard to do shit. But it’s good for everyone.
More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.