Dive from the cliff of risk into joy
It has taken years to put the fear of rejection behind and embrace risk, and yet, at the end of it all, I feel more fulfilled than I've ever felt before
It took me a while to realise that despite making my way into my thirties, my fear of rejection hasn't been at all stemmed. At best, I have learned to subdue it, to keep it at bay and not allow it to be debilitating. Because, growing up, I was a lanky, awkward, dark girl, I internalised every bit of jeering laughter that came by way, usually from the corner where the boys in my colony hung out. It's entirely possible that they weren't mocking me and I imagined the whole thing. But I do remember one specific incident when I was walking with my parents for the Christmas Midnight Mass. The star had been hung up outside, in the centre of the lane that leads from the main road to our colony.
That year, I had decided not to get a dress tailored. Instead, with my mother's sanction, I'd picked a black sequined dress. Very flapper. I was skeletal thin then and had little sense of self-consciousness since the dress hugged my figure flatteringly. However, when I was heading out, one boy (I won't take names) who was part of a larger gang, made a loud comment about how the blackness of the dress made me invisible. I spent the next few hours feeling the heat of derision. I don't know if I've fully recovered from that incident. It's such a small event in my life. It must have taken him all of one minute to think up the jibe, and then another to deliver it. He probably doesn't even remember having said it at all. And yet, here I am, still possessed by the memory. Each time I start to feel confident about myself, I am reminded how I was once brought down to size by a cruel boy.
Sometimes I am convinced that the story of my life could be narrated as a series of rejections. Most weren't ever in my control, and it took a long time to discover that I was not to blame for them. I think it was my Psychology professor at St Xaviers', Professor Ruby, who said something wise once about how if someone didn't like chocolate cake, you couldn't blame the chocolate cake for not being appetising enough. The metaphor stuck, perhaps because I am personally not a huge fan of chocolate-flavoured things, and it must have rung true for me. But it did little to mitigate the psychological consequence of early rejections. The biggest casualty hasn't been in my personal relationships so much as in my professional undertakings.
Because I'd been "asked to resign" from the first real job I had, at a magazine, on account of my not being good enough, not dressing well enough, not writing well enough, not being restrained enough, I inculcated a fear of being forever unemployable, despite my impressive post-grad degree. I chose to work in publishing instead, at least for a while, before I finally got a big break and became editor of an online arts daily, despite the lack of any art history degree — a massive ego boost.
Yet, despite having written more than two or three thousand stories, easily, since 2010, I still have a fear of applying for anything; art writing awards, residencies, fellowships, post-grad programmes. You name it. That I got invited to three residencies in the last two years was serendipitous. I hadn't applied to any of them. It has taken me a long time to believe that no good comes from functioning out of fear. All decisions that ensue from such negativity are destined to result in regret. Who knows how many opportunities I've let slip because I was too chicken to apply. I told myself that if I didn't drop my name in the hat, there'd be no possibility of rejection. But obviously the loss has been mine entirely.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the need to embrace risk. I can vouch for it now. We have found ourselves at the beginning of November. The year is almost coming to a close. The last 11 months have been experiments in risk-taking. I chose to be vulnerable; I chose to move on from the security of tried-and-tested relationships; I travelled to many familiar and unfamiliar territories, often at great risk to my bank account. And yet, at the end of it all, I feel more fulfilled than I've ever felt before. I think the biggest risk I took was to expose my heart to a new source of light; one previously un-encountered. I'm not saying the fear of rejection has shrivelled into a manageable woollen ball-sized emotion. It exists as a shadow and it rears its ugly face ever so often. It's just that I choose now to ignore its presence, pretending it isn't as big and gauntly and obese as it is. Each time I move away from it and towards the vantage point of risk, I find myself closer to happiness.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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