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  • Nan Russell

Not a Linear Path


Setbacks, rejections, and unsuccessful attempts are typical for most of us. From being fired from my first professional job out of graduate school to book proposal rejections, financial setbacks, and life-happens challenges, most years hold reminders that dreams and aspirations aren’t a linear path.

When we view others’ success, we often miss their failures, disappointments, or struggles. We don’t notice the wrong choices or closed doors that came before their accolades. Albert Einstein’s Ph.D. dissertation was rejected; Henry Ford had two bankruptcies before his famous success; Rodin couldn’t get into art school on three occasions yet became a great sculptor; and Abraham Lincoln lost seven elections before winning the presidency.


Sometimes we should change direction or give up a pursuit as doors close or new ones open. Sometimes we shouldn’t. But how do you know? Here are two examples from my life.


Fired from a job I was not well-suited for opened new possibilities that were. And while emotionally stung by it happening, my boss was right. I was never going to be successful. At best, I might reach mediocre. If I hadn’t been fired, I never would have found a great first act career in a role that matched my talents. Still, if I’d been honest with myself, I never would have taken the job or stayed once I realized it was a poor fit. But in hindsight, somewhere inside, I did know.


Now, in a second act career as a writer, there are plenty of setbacks and disappointments. With five published books, I’m grown accustomed to receiving rejections, even if they still sting. But they never make me want to give up. Rejections are part of every writer’s life I tell myself as I wait for my persistence and determination to reappear after a big disappointment. Writing is soul-work for me, and I’ve come to know that.


I like to think that Thomas Edison was right: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” But I would add many of our own setbacks and disappointments happen because we’re not tuned into our wisdom, not listening to our heart, not hearing the music we have to give.


Life is not a linear path. Nor in my way of thinking, should it be. There is much we have to learn.




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