Learning from Rejections (#2)

I have entered a new perspective where I no longer run from rejections.

Even a few weeks ago, when I pitched a publication, my pitch was based around avoiding rejection. I would research thoroughly to make sure it was aligned with the magazine. I would submit my ideas with utmost care. I would wait in tortured silence, hoping the rejection would never come.

It’s not that I did anything wrong. It’s just that fear motivated everything that I did. I did all the right things (research etc.) for the sole purpose of avoiding rejection. I was afraid of being ignored or having my creative work criticized.

Today I felt a switch.

I’ve been working on a pitch for a feature story in the Sierra Club magazine, Sierra. Two hours of researching forest fires and building my backstory went into this pitch. I even drafted it twice before sending it. I waited until Monday because I believe sending it in on Friday is a recipe for disaster. When I submitted it this morning, I felt joyous. Can I do that again? I thought. Building a story like this is fun.

This feeling persisted despite immediate obstacles.

Buoyed by my joy, I continued researching places to publish. While scrolling through Backpacker Magazine’s contributor guidelines, I noticed my “error.” Holding no punches, the magazine authors stated in unambiguous terms that new and emerging writers would rarely be considered for a feature story. The same had to apply for the Sierra magazine. There was little to no chance that my pitch would land anywhere.

I smiled and continued my research.

What? I can hear my self of a weeks ago saying. Didn’t that feel like a crushing blow to know your article would probably never see the light of day? You wasted hours of your time on something that would never be published. 

A brave new voice answers, But it was fun. And that’s my unvarnished truth. Some of the most fun that I’ve had during the last week (outside of hiking and obvious fun events) was creating that pitch. I enjoyed researching the forest fires that I hiked through. I devoured maps, stats, and articles in a search for the right angle. And it was fun! Possibly more fun than actually writing the article. The act of looking for a story for Sierra was in itself very rewarding.

Realizing that I enjoy this aspect of the work has been a powerful acknowledgment of this path for me. If I’m not focused on the anxiety of rejection, being a writer feels good. It feels right. It fits like an awesome glove.

Honestly, what a relief. If there were no more to being a writer than being able to face down the demons of criticism, it would have been hard to continue. It’s a big obstacle to climb and a constant battle. How pleasant to know that I can ignore the fears (note: I have been working on this skill for a LONG time). And even better to know that, freed of the fear, pitching and creating stories makes me happy.


To read more about my current transformational period, check out my article on Elephant Journal.

Freelance Failure Experiment – Introduction

I am going to finally “take freelance writing seriously” by courting failure. In the past, I have taken sure things – low paying content mill jobs. I get paid less than 5 cents per word, but my chances of rejection are low. I have realized this is unsustainable, but I also understand that the world of better writing is full of failure. My work will get rejected, multiple times, and I will have to learn to deal with it. That is the point of this experiment.

What does courting failure entail? In my case, it means that I commit to submitting $5000 worth of pitches per week. But I know that I will earn maybe $100 to $500.

The purposes of this experiment are numerous

  1. Even with a 90% failure rate, I should be able to pay rent.
  2. I anticipate failure and continue to work anyway. (Big one!)
  3. To make $5000, I have to take big shots that would otherwise scare me senseless.

The setup is quite simple too.

I will blog every Monday about my plans to make $5000 – where I plan to submit etc. On Friday, I will blog again to demonstrate what I’ve accomplished. I even have a small bar scribbled in my planner so I can track visually how close to $5000 I get. Note: I will only be working on weekdays because I want to be a person with weekends. The regular blogs will help keep me honest even when I’m not sure that anyone is listening.

It starts now.

This experiment is a small piece of building the lifestyle that I want. My larger goal is to be able to indulge my love of researching and writing about it. This experiment should help me build some of the skills and connections that I need to make the larger goal a reality.

(Personal Essay) Life of a 26-year-old BRCA Mutant

One of my personal goals for the last few months has been to write a personal essay and submit it for publication. This is my first. I submitted it to NYT Opinion and Buzzfeed. Though I planned to submit it to more places, if it’s not published a month after I finish it, I want to publish it here. 

There are no breast cancer screenings for a 26-year-old, unless, of course, that person is me. Two years ago, I sat in a clinic in Seattle, waiting to hear the results of my BRCA-2 mutation test. I had a 50% chance of being positive, thanks to a gene on my mom’s side that led to her diagnosis of breast cancer at 42. Even as the blood slipped from my veins, to be shipped to my home state of Utah for the genetic test, I believed that I was part of the lucky 50%, the ones that had no mutations. But now I have a piece of paper that reads in bold across the top POSITIVE FOR A DELETERIOUS MUTATION.

Every time I visit the doctor, I feel like these bold-face words are branded across my forehead.

They do make me different. The documentation reads “this type of mutation in high risk families indicates that … (my mutation) may confer as much as an 84% risk of breast cancer and 27% risk of ovarian cancer by 70 in women.” Over the last two years, I have breathed in this information and it hasn’t suffocated me yet. But it does commit me to completing all the screenings that my doctors recommend.

To address this increased risk, my doctor gave me a “personalized” screening procedure to guide the rest of the my life. At 25, I was to begin MRI breast screenings. My doctor did not recommend mammograms until the age of 30. She also provided a set of unpleasant sounding screenings for ovarian cancer that would also commence at age 30. From that moment, I felt as if I had stepped away from my group of friends, normal women that would laugh about mammograms and menopause at about the same time. Instead, after I finished having kids, whenever that would be, I would be deciding if I should remove parts of my female body or not.

But, for now, I’m 26 and childless, subject only to the MRI screenings until age 30. Three months after my 25th birthday, I called my doctor to request an MRI. Three weeks later after my request, I opened a short letter saying that my request was not approved. In a panic, I called the cancer doctor to ask about the problem. Her nurse calmly explained that it had been approved. But I was still nervous about the letter that I held in my hands. Two days after the phone call, another letter in my mailbox said that the MRI was approved. This confusion, possibly due to my age, seems to be a new factor in my health care.

I endured the widened eyes as I approached the front desk for the MRI center. Yes, I am sure that I am supposed to be here. As I waited in a tiny room with only a backwards hospital gown for covering, I watched a parade of people two or three times my age pass by. Finally it was my turn for 45 minutes in the clanking, pressing environment that is an MRI machine. After the MRI, I found it strange that my experience was shared with my parents. I could call them and they would understand the failure of the music system to block out the racket. But my dear boyfriend might not know what that was like for another decade or two, if at all.

Weeks later, I opened my bills to find a charge for $1000. It threw me for a loop. I thought that my screening was preventative and therefore should be covered by my insurance. My limited knowledge of the Affordable Care Act made me think that it should be covered. It was like a mammogram for 25-year-olds, in my mind, why wasn’t it free?

A quick Google search told me that mammograms were included in the Affordable Care Act preventative screenings, but this didn’t help me. MRI’s were not even mentioned. I looked into mammograms in more detail, telling myself that I was preparing for my 30th birthday. The whole system of mammography is built around people starting screening at 40 (the normal age). There is not even consensus starting screening at 40 because there is a high rate of false positives. When my doctor introduced my mammogram screening to me, she prepared me by warning about exploratory biopsies. Apparently, younger breasts are even more likely to get false positives. I’m not optimistic avoiding the biopsies; multiple blunt doctors have labeled my boobs as “lumpy.”

Now I wasn’t not even sure that my lumpy boobs will get a “free” (health insurance covered) mammogram at age 30. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance coverage of mammograms. Yet, reading closely, the wording does state “mammograms starting at age 40.” Depending on my health insurance, I may have to pay for these mammograms for 10 years before the legalese includes me.

I began to panic. If neither mammograms nor MRI’s were covered for me, how would I pay for the screenings that could save my life?

I was determined to convince the insurance company that I shouldn’t have to pay for preventative MRIs. I emailed my company’s health insurance provider. That was the first time that I had written out that I was BRCA-2 positive and it made me sad. I hoped that at least it would save me some money. But it seemed fruitless. No one would accept my argument that MRI’s are a screening. Apparently, MRI’s are always diagnostic, a law writ in stone.

I was disheartened. I didn’t even ask about mammograms, leaving my 30-year-old self to deal with it in the future.

I paid the $1000 with some regret, totaling the cost of doing this for the next 30 years, as my screening protocol recommended. $30,000 is a lot of money. This thought has rung in my head since then. It sang as I quit my job with excellent health insurance to pursue my dream of writing. It rang when I picked the only health plan I could afford, with a $6000 deductible. A small part of me clenched this February, when I was supposed to get my MRI, but I didn’t, because I couldn’t see how to afford it.

Knowing that I have a BRCA-2 mutation can be empowering. Rather than wander through the unknown, I was given a protocol that would likely save my life. But I lack the resources to make it happen. Some of the lack it is money. None of my peers put money away every year for health costs, so I honestly didn’t think of it as an option. Some of the lack is support. Laws are designed to help the many, the millions of women in the United States that may need mammograms at age 40. But I am part of the few, the young people that found out about their mutation through their parent’s diagnosis and genetic test.

There is no space for us in the current system…yet. I believe that we are just starting to feel the impact of genetic testing. For years, it has verified what was already believed, that some people with cancer had a genetic mutation. Now genetic testing has opened up a new door. Children can be tested for the mutations of their parents. This knowledge can save lives – if the additional screenings can be offered at a cost that a 26-year-old writer/Uber driver can pay.

The Boss you can Say “No” to

I have a problem with saying no, even when I should. This tendency used to serve me well. As a college swimmer, I rarely missed a day of practice. One cold January afternoon, I went to swim practice without eating because I didn’t have time. My coach nearly had to fish me out of the pool. I collapsed on a bench and he gave me a chocolate Chewy granola bar. After the requisite five minute break, I jumped back into the pool.

Despite my conviction that this was a good trait, I burned out and quit swimming in both high school and college. I did not want to keep repeating this pattern in my work.

At Pratt and Whitney, I barely brought my laptop home for the first few months. However, this job required travel, so I was bound to yes to months-long stints in other states. After I was sent to Tennessee for 4 months, I demanded a return to Connecticut. My managers actually obliged me and sent me home. I felt like I had lost four months of my life, but I was able to reclaim my boundaries.

I was not as successful at my next job, though I tried. My major battle was with answering emails. It was mandatory that my work email was accessible on my phone. In an effort to stay sane, I set my phone to manually update, so I wouldn’t see notifications about work emails unless I clicked on the icon. Once an evening, I would check it and respond to anything I thought was necessary. It seemed reasonable to me, until my lead engineer sat me down and calmly explained to me that I must answer the President’s emails, at any time of day, within an hour. Saying no was not an option if I wanted to keep my job.

Eventually, I said no emphatically and moved to another job. At the new job, I ran into the same issue. My boss told me that I could work flexible hours. I would come in at 6:30am and leave around 3:00pm to avoid the hellish traffic between West Seattle and Redmond. Then that was deemed unacceptable because every else worked more than 8 hours. Silly me, wanting to work 40 hours a week…? My little “nos” did not work here either, so eventually the big “no” came out and I quit.

It seemed like every time I constructed a reasonable boundary, the company that I worked for tried to demolish it.

So I looked for a job where I could set my own boundaries and found Uber. I was excited by the total freedom in my schedule. I could work the exact hours that I felt like working, no more, no less. With this level of freedom, I thought it would be easy to say “no.”

But it was still hard at first.

For the first week, I never declined a fare. I knew from looking at my ratings that declining a fare was bad, so I tried to never do it. My finger popped the screen and I jumped from one rider to another until my bladder was about to explode. Then I discovered that it was acceptable to just go offline (no ratings impact), so I did that.

It was still hard to say no.

Uber sends out messages when you try to go offline in an effort to make you feel guilty or inspire you. My least favorite is “You more money last week at this time than this week. Make $17.64 to catch up!” But I had committed to saying no, so I hit “go offline” anyway.

For days, I waited for the hammer to fall. What would happen if I didn’t do what Uber wanted to me to do? After about a week of going offline when I wanted to, I finally realized that there was little consequence to say no. I lost out on a few dollars, I suppose. But I wanted my freedom more.

On Friday night before Halloween, I got a text message from Uber about the high demand, asking me to go out and drive. I just laughed. I told my boyfriend that I would not be setting down my wine and stopping our movie to go drive around in the dark.

Finally, I have a boss that takes no for an answer.

My first day as an Uber Driver

What am I doing?

It’s a good question. I’m making time to write and explore opportunities. I’m choosing a job where I can decide how much I work – and the hours are directly proportional to how much money I make. I’m committing to writing my novel and memoir pieces. I’m not going to stop writing because I’m unable to pay rent and have to get a full-time engineering job.

So I’m driving with Uber.

To be honest, my first day as an Uber driver started poorly. I live in West Seattle and it’s not exactly a hotbed of Uber users. I’m pretty sure that I could have sat in my driveway all day and gotten maybe one fare. So I set off toward the airport. I figured that maybe some businessmen staying in airport hotels may need a ride downtown. The Uber app remained silent. I tapped it a couple of times to make sure it worked. There was no way I could know. I didn’t know what getting a fare looking like.

Then I noticed Queen Anne erupt into red hexagons (on the Uber app). I had heard rumors of this phenomenon. It was called a surge and it meant that Queen Anne was so busy that fare prices had increased. I was 45 minutes in and had no  fares to show for it, so I headed north. Of course, I got stuck on 99 north. I sat motionless on the viaduct as the hexagons faded to orange and then eventually disappeared. But I kept my course toward Queen Anne.

Then it happened. The app made a popping sound and a round timer started spinning. I tapped it frantically. “Sending” popped up. I had my first fare.

She was hard to find. I pulled into a gas station and called her to let her know where I was. My heart was pounding. It was too early to have messed up! She appeared. My hands were shaking with excitement. Hopefully, I thought, she wouldn’t know this was my first fare! I rushed her downtown as quickly as I could. She was running late for work. I had survived my first fare – hurrah! Maybe this would work after all. I stuck to my new plan. Once again I turned toward Queen Anne.

Pop, pop, pop.

This was how the rest of my “online” day went. It was incredible. I would drop someone off and start heading toward a neighborhood (usually Queen Anne or Capitol Hill). Then 45 seconds later, I’d have a new fare! I tapped all of them with excitement. This was working! I appreciate the smoothness and ease of the app. I could drive constantly, almost always heading to or from a fare. I’m pretty sure that I did a specific loop in Capital Hill at least three times, picking up people and dropping them off at different points along the way.

There were some hiccups. I suppose you could call it bad luck or lack of consideration. I accepted a fare on Mercer Island. My rider needed to go about 5 blocks. I spent about 15 minutes commuting to and from Mercer Island for a very short ride. There is no way that the fare was cost effective for me – either in gas or time. But it was okay. My rider made me feel like I was doing a public service instead of driving people around for money.  I was not deterred. I kept excitedly tapping any fare that popped on my phone.

The best part of the day was knowing that I could go offline whenever I pleased. When I felt like I needed a break, all I had to do was slide a button on my phone. No one would berate me for leaving the office early or “not being a team player.” Life was pretty simple. I was either online or offline. It was my choice.

I took an enjoyable break in the middle of my driving. I had a pot of tea and wrote my entire memoir class assignment in one sitting. 1200 words in one hours. Not unimpressive. The idea that my time was limited – because I had to make some money today – drove me to write without hesitation.

In total, I made $48 today.

Since I love math, I decided that worked out to $16/hr (if you removed the 45 minutes that I wandered through Tukwila with no fares). That’s pretty cool. I’m happy because I worked the hours that I wanted to work. When I had to pee, I stopped and took a long break. When I was hungry, I went home for lunch. When I wanted to write, I stopped and I wrote for an hour. This is the flexibility that I have always craved.

Uber money might not be as much as  I am used to, but I love the freedom.