Like most people, I usually let clichés pass by me, practically unnoticed.
I can’t help it.
Whenever I hear something overused and stale, my brain—I’m guessing in an attempt to save me from being bored to death—goes into neutral. This also happens when I have the grave misfortune of being someplace where “Freebird” is playing on the radio.
Keeping this in mind, “it’s always darkest before the dawn” has been a set of words that got immediately shuffled in my mind right next to “a penny saved is a penny earned” and “a stitch in time saves nine.” In other words, it meant nothing to me.
That is, until just this week.
For months, I have been waking up at 6 a.m. to research literary agents and send out query letters in an attempt to find representation for a book proposal that I spent the winter working on. For months, rejection letters trickled in—one after another after another. I will admit that it got to a point where I knew I needed to do something proactive to continue my process.
I’ve had one particular Tony Robbins talk practically tattooed on my brain. It’s the one where he goes on about how the secret of success is trying and trying and trying without ever giving up. He gives numerous examples of the most tenacious and successful people in the world: Colonel Harlan Sanders who received 1,009 rejections before he sold his first chicken recipe, and Walt Disney being turned down 302 times for the capital to build Walt Disney World, to name only two.
Then Robbins asks, “How long would you give your average baby to learn how to walk? Three or four chances?”
His lesson is very clear: nearly everybody in the world knows how to walk because they just get up and try again, over and over and over, until they get it. This is obviously the only way to achieve an all-consuming goal.
Having this information was helpful but, at the same time, my psyche was taking a beating by the volume of rejection letters I was receiving. So I put in for a personal day on Thursday and went up to Woodstock, New York, to get hypnosis. I generally have a healthy bit of self-confidence, and I felt like this would be an effective way to get a tune-up.
The next part of this story smacks of Hollywood fantasy, so I will say in advance, this is really how it went down:
I left the appointment in Woodstock and headed straight over to the next town to get some sushi for lunch. In the middle of my meal, an email hit my phone. It was from an agent who I had a brief exchange with last week. There was something hopeful about this message, but experience has made me cautious. Still though, I had to leave the restaurant without finishing my food—something that never happens with me and sushi—because something in my gut began to get nervous.
By the time I got home, I received another email that included the phrase, “I’d like to send an agreement over for you to sign…”
I will admit this to you: tears began streaming down my cheeks. The very thing that I wanted more than anything else in the world was coming true.
I tell this story because it is something I would’ve loved to hear even as recently as last week. I realize, as I mentioned when I began this article, that we all tend to shut out clichés and platitudes, but perhaps that isn’t always to our benefit.
If you are a writer, or anyone striving to reach a goal, keep this in mind: it does happen. It will happen. If you are persistent and refuse to ever give up. If you believe in yourself even when you stop believing in yourself.
One last note, though. The only thing that is required beyond patience and tenacity is a thing called “sensory acuity.” That is just a fancy way of saying that if something isn’t working, try to figure out what you might be doing wrong and fix it.
Not a single agent told me that there was a typo in the first paragraph of my query letter and I only noticed it after I sent out many of them. That one typo led me to ask myself what else might be wrong with my letter, which pushed me to revamp it a little. I can’t say for sure if this is what led to my good fortune, but I’m certain that it didn’t hurt.
So, dare to dream as big as your heart will allow you to—and then back it up with action. To use a tired, old cliché, “you can do anything if you just set your mind to it.”