Starting at the top, no one suffered a closer call than Al Gore. The man was President for a minute and then had to face a future that would not include the White House. None of us knows how he got through the disappointment, how far he went down emotionally and how he found the inner strength to pull himself back up. But rise he did with a potent cause, an Oscar-winning film, a best-selling book, a television network and the kind of money he never would have seen running the country.
My mother -- like yours probably -- always said, "Everything happens for a reason" and "This will be for the best later on." The words felt meaningless, even insensitive, as I cried myself to sleep, having lost the leading role in the high school's production of Our Town. (And to my best friend!) But you know what? I got a far more colorful lead in a much-discussed Spring production of The House of Bernardo Alba.
"My career has literally been made by the jobs I didn't get," says my pal Gerry, one of the more prominent lawyers and LAPD operatives in Los Angeles. He looks back at two of the positions he thought he had to have: both, it turns out, would have taken him to less interesting locales where he would not have made such out-of-the-box choices, not to mention meet the woman who would be his wife.
Still, he well recalls the pain of hearing "no" instead of "yes." We all can remember where we were -- not unlike when momentous world events happen -- when we did not get something that felt so right and almost a sure thing. The actor and writer Charles Grodin once regaled me with the story of a Los Angeles theatre owner calling him to report that he wanted to produce Grodin's play and that he would call him back in 10 minutes. The phone never rang. My writing partner and I were in a Jacuzzi sipping champagne and congratulating ourselves on having nabbed a top actress for our network pitch the following day. In this case, the phone did ring. It was the actress informing us she was pulling out because she had decided to elope and fly to New York. The marriage lasted six months, our project was dead.
Did we want that meeting? Of course. Would that have helped our careers? Sure. But did we both become more determined and focused? In fact yes, with my partner opting to stay in that world while I decided journalism was less fraught with such high-stakes star whims. One rule worth remembering on this subject: Never celebrate prematurely.
The issue isn't really about the jobs that went to someone else, or the awards or the roles. Those disappointments are devastating, period. But it's how we fight back, not to show that they were wrong, but to convince ourselves we were right. "I work twice as hard after I descend into the necessary depression," says one friend who has faced rejections in the artistic world. "I go from feeling bitter, to embarrassed, to wondering why I wasn't good enough, to thinking 'Dammit, it's their loss.'"
Lest we forget, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and while obviously crushed, set out to practice every day for a year and make the team the following season. Jennifer Hudson came in seventh on "American Idol." It may have momentarily felt like the end of her world, but her enormous talent mixed with the sympathetic response turned out to be a great combo. Katharine McPhee was a runner up on the program another year, but one Steven Spielberg was watching and remembered her years later when he was producing Smash for television. Is Hillary Clinton ultimately happy she didn't get the presidential nomination? Likely not. But who can doubt the respect she has earned as part of a Team of Rivals?
As this summer started, my husband's show was cancelled, my son's summer job disappeared and an article I was sure would be assigned, was not. They were all legitimate blows and a heavy pall settled over our home. But not only is perspective the best medicine -- no one was ill or poverty stricken -- we slowly started putting together the building blocks of recovery. A new show would be created, partly based on what did not work this time. A different summer plan was devised, including an interesting internship in a new field and renewed emphasis on other aspects. And a good article idea found another home for which it was obviously better suited.
At the time they happen, these close calls or near-hits feel irreparable. But as time moves on, they not only diminish in size, better things may emerge. As usual, my mom may have known best.