If at first you don’t succeed, blame the unpaid intern

One generally accepted principle for success is that, if you work hard enough at something, you will start to see results.  I think most people will probably agree that this is a good rule to live by, and nine cases out of ten it holds up.  But what about that one case?  The one where you’ve worked so hard on something, and yet, for some reason, things just aren’t working out?  Maybe it’s a job you’ve applied for and haven’t heard back from, or a work of art you’ve poured yourself into that is repeatedly rejected.  Understandably, many people in these situations find themselves frustrated and begin to question whether they have what it takes.  But what they often forget is there are more factors involved than whether or not they’re good enough.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I went about my internship.  I am working part-time as an intern at a literary agency this summer, and one of my main responsibilities is to sort through the endless letters from authors asking the agency to represent their books to publishers.  If I find one that stands out, I forward it along to those above me.  If I don’t particularly like one, I send out a brief, pre-written rejection letter.  All the while, there’s no one standing over my shoulder to say whether I made a mistake.  It’s a lot of responsibility, and I sincerely hope that I never reject anyone who didn’t deserve it.

2627036668_f1e6aac95e_zBut after rejecting one query after another that “just doesn’t stand out,” I inevitably find myself starting to wonder—would I have done that if I’d had my coffee this morning?  Or if someone hadn’t distracted me in the middle of my reading?  Maybe I would have looked at one query a little differently and it would have really jumped off the page at me.  I know I’m not perfect, and I know at some point it’s entirely possible that I will reject someone who actually had a great story on their hands.

Likewise, maybe the potential employer you sent your resume to stubbed his toe walking into the office that day or got into a fight with his wife before coming in or realized he forgot to pick up the milk while he was reading your cover letter.  It can be easy to think you don’t have what it takes, but the fact is that sometimes our failures are totally random.  That isn’t to say you should blame every failure on an unpaid intern or distracted hiring manager—make sure to get as much feedback as possible on your work, and know your strengths and weaknesses.  But sometimes you can do everything right and still not have everything work out.

So for those who are currently struggling with repeated failure, allow this to encourage you as you chase after success.  Don’t give up.  Do the best that you can in everything.  And when all else fails, just remember to try, try again.