The Second “Now What?”

Steve was rejected by a gallery. In hopes of representation he showed them his work but, for whatever reason, they did not accept.

Now what?

Rejection is devastating. It seeps deep to the bone and festers, questioning everything. But Steve seemed ahead of the curve–quickly moved beyond the common, reactionary introspections (if he was ever there) that rejection can bring, namely, “what am I doing?”, “where am I going?”, and even “who am I?”. Steve pulled himself up by the proverbial “boot straps” and began asking a different question–“how can I make this gallery ‘like’ me?” Steve was asking the second “now what”?

“Now what”? Two words, read in any order, are the fuel that sends you further, or they are the whimpering cry of defeat. I contend that the latter is a common, human reaction to our perceived failure–we are not immune to our sensitivities.

It’s easy to become dejected from someone else’s opinion of us; it can cause one to ask “now what do I do?”, “now what will become of me?” But there is another “now what?”, usually following the first one, that rings with optimism. This time the emphasis is on the “what”–“now what do I do to take advantage of this situation, now what is the meaning of this event for me, what is the opportunity?”. This is the second “now what?” Same event, same rejection, same “failure”, even the same reactionary words, but now the emphasis has changed, the outlook is different. This mindset is one that will ensure Steve goes further, doesn’t stay stagnant.

“What once gave me shame feels now like an honor because I prospered in spite of it, maybe because of it.”

I’ve asked the first “now what?” a few times in my life; one instance I remember being particularly hard. This rejection actually came in written form–a letter; I think this somehow made it more concrete, seeing my rejection, my “failure”, in writing. After a couple of weeks (maybe it was months) I took the letter, put it in a frame, and hung it on the wall where I would see it every morning. It became the impetus, the motivation, for everything I’ve done since then. It has been the fuel to my subsequent accomplishments, to meeting goals I’ve set for myself. Looking back, I’m not sure where I’d be if I hadn’t received that letter. I am, I believe, the better for it. What once gave me shame feels now like an honor because I prospered in spite of it, maybe because of it. It still hangs on my wall–this letter of rejection–prompting me ever onward, reminding me that nothing is truly “failure” unless that’s how I decide to see it.

Image: Dejected Girl pen & ink MTMcClanahan

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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