43: The highs, the lows.

- September 10, 2017 -

Back in August, I raced my way through Last Chance U, a 2-season documentary series on the football program at an American junior college.

(Don’t worry, though: for anyone currently watching the show, this is spoiler-free.)

The series is filmed at East Mississippi Community College, a school known for actively recruiting all-star players who have been kicked off of other teams and/or expelled from other schools. The premise under which their team operates is simple, and the advantages are clear for both parties: the school gets to fill their roster with otherwise-unattainable top players, and the players get an opportunity for rehabilitation. If all goes well, EMCC earns the prestige of winning multiple championships, and the players get recruited back to Division I schools, giving them another chance at playing professional football and, ultimately, joining the NFL.

When it works, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience for all those involved. But, as is to be expected, things don’t always go according to plan.

During a particularly raucous and tension-filled episode which marks a low point of some significance, there’s a temporary digression from the main narrative to feature a motivational pep talk from the local preacher. It’s from this pep talk that I first discovered the question which I now have tacked above my desk in big, sprawling letters:

“How will you handle your valley experience?”

. . .

I happened to come across this question while I was tumbling through the depths of my own recent valley experience. It was during a time when my inbox was continually flooded with one rejection after another — and it was almost always a form-letter rejection — telling me that yet another person was passing on my book, that my work wasn’t good enough for them to take seriously, and that, as sorry as they were, they wished me the best of luck.

It wasn’t the end of the road, of course, and I knew that, but it was certainly a major roadblock. And, for a long time, it was a roadblock that I just didn’t know how to get past.

Hearing that question, though — “How will you handle your valley experience?” — suddenly made that roadblock seem much smaller than it had previously felt. It limited what had been a boundless failure to the clearly defined confines of a temporary incident, something which was to be gotten through rather than gotten stuck on.

It offered a way of thinking about the problem which gave me back the agency I felt I’d lost. It made me realize that, while I couldn’t alter the fact that I’d failed this time around, I could control what I did next. And, perhaps most importantly, it reminded me that whether or not I chose to do anything constructive, I would still be making a decision about how my future was going to unfold.

It made me realize that, unless I took deliberate action to improve the situation, I might never get beyond that valley, and I might never move on to the next peak. And once I realized that, it didn’t take long for me to start climbing my way back up.


Waving from my desk,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.