by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author: Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 

Many people familiar with my work know that in the 1990s, I was an Investment in Excellence facilitator and that is where I first learned the neuroscience behind affirmations. After I had been teaching IIE a while, I had the opportunity to go to Seattle and meet Lou Tice, the creator of IIE, for a facilitator weekend. During the weekend, he spoke of not giving up anything in the face of rejection and having doors slammed in your face. He encouraged us to use disappointment as an opportunity to evaluate what’s not working and to use rejection as a chance to make adjustments or take an entirely different route.

I’ve written articles and recorded podcasts about the rejection sustained by many famous people who were told they had no talent or “had no shot” by producers/agents/recording companies etc. (the Beatles, Elvis Presley, etc.). By using these famous examples, we can see that not every supposed “expert” is right. 

When people reject us, whether it’s personal or professional, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with us.  Sometimes it’s about their lack of vision.   A person who doesn’t know you can’t really reject you and a person who does know you and rejects you doesn’t appreciate you, and too bad so sad for them. 

Agents of Change

When I first started querying agents to see if they would represent Getting Past Your Breakup, several refused on the basis that  the relationship category was saturated and there was nothing new to say. It was hard to get across, in a one-page query, that GPYB was new and different.   When I first started hearing the equivalent of “same old, same old,” I thought they simply must be confused. Applying affirmations to breakup recovery hadn’t really been done, no one knew what no contact was, and no one else had tackled the idea of applying grief work to a breakup  How in the world could they think that my book had already been done?  I knew it hadn’t been. 

But I also knew that if I couldn’t get this idea across in a pitch letter, the chances of getting my book published were probably nil. I needed to massage the pitch a bit more and to clarify the difference that is GPYB.  I must have revised the query about a hundred times, working hard to perfect the pitch.  Despite how long and hard I worked at revisions, I sent out only a few letters at a time and waited for responses before sending out more. Most rejections were simply form letters, but some gave some helpful hints (other than, “Give it up.”)

Some writers send out dozens of query letters at a time. However, I thought that if I did that, I would exhaust all the agents without getting a second shot.  I worked on my “patience” affirmations daily and kept grinding away at the letter. The time between sending them out and receiving responses was excruciating, but I knew I would only be successful if I did it methodically.

When The Chips Are Down

I have written, many times, about the night I met Michael.

I was out and about, not thinking of dating or of being in a relationship. As I said on the recent podcast, I was out to see and be seen. I was hours late for a house-warming party.  Many people would have not gone, but I didn’t want to disappoint my friend and his partner who had just closed on their first home. 

It was a lovely June evening in Cambridge Massachusetts – and as I walked up the street, I could pretty much guess that the party was coming from the direction of voices and laughter. As I got closer to the sound, I could see, through slatted fencing, that everyone was in the small backyard where Chinese lanterns were strung across an old clothes line.  The gate was locked, so I walked around and stepped into the house through the front door, which was held open by a small…”What would you call this?” I chuckled to myself, “A cast iron iron?”  

My friend had just moved into the old mansard-style house a few days prior. The party invitations implored us to excuse the mess as the house needed a lot of work. Renovations would take a few years, but nothing stopped them from throwing a good party. I knew them to be awesome party planners and I was sure the food would be delicious and plentiful. 

As I looked around, I could see he was right about the state of the house.  With the exception of two aluminum tables laden with the remnants of a buffet, the first room was without furniture. The parquet floors were dull and badly scuffed; the yellowed wallpaper had dark outlines where pictures must have been hanging for years. 

As I turned to look in the small alcove, I was startled to see a man with long hair and a scruffy beard, shoveling potato chips into his mouth as crumbs fell onto his Harley Davidson tee shirt.  The hosts were very well-dressed, distinguished-looking gentlemen. They were not the kind of guys to have friends dressed in motorcycle garb. I thought that either the potato chip eater just wandered in off the street to grab some snacks, or I was in the wrong house.

He seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He pulled the potato chips, cupped in his hand, closer to his chest, as if I was about to snatch them away. The sight of him was so unexpected that I blurted out, a little bit too loudly, “Who are you?” He seemed to jump back a little. When I realized how accusatory that sounded, I followed it with a sweep of my hand and a question, “Is this all there is to eat?”  This was so not like them. The Harley-clad dude looked satisfied with it. 

He paused his noshing momentarily to say, “yes,”  but looked a little bit afraid.  I mentioned my friend’s name and asked if this was the right house and he nodded. I made a few snarky comments about the spread – or lack thereof – and he gave a slight, amused smile. With more than a hint of sarcasm, I said I was glad I could entertain him. He raised his eyebrows and blinked hard. Over the next several years, I would come to know the raised-eyebrow-blinking-hard look very, very well. 

Fast Forward Back a While

Meanwhile, back to (or forward to?) the 2007 literary world.  I had been happily married, for over a decade, to the scruffy potato-chip eater and was making boatloads of money as an attorney at a top law firm. One of my goals – for over 20 years – had been to return to my hometown of New York City and – after a circuitous route around the country, I had done just that. I didn’t really need to publish a book. I thought it would be nice, but not necessary. If it happened, fine; if not, that’s fine too.

Then I received an email from an international women’s organization asking for “the book.” They had somehow read some of the press I had received — former foster child/domestic violence victim turns it all around teaching motivational classes at night, while lawyering during the day….yadda yadda. They wanted to use my story and my program to inspire abuse victims.  Where could they get the book?

Upon reading their inquiry, publishing the book was now necessary.  No from agents was not an acceptable answer. I had to keep working on those letters no matter what else I had going on in my life.  After about two dozen more letters, a top New York literary agency signed me. Both diligence and adjustments had paid off.

My agent and I then set about writing the book proposal – using much the same strategy as I had employed for the queries – and had offers from publishers fairly quickly. After it was published and the reviews started coming in, it was clearly not evaluated by titans of the publishing industry as “same old, same old.” As sales climbed and accolades poured in, the editor who bought the book said, “I knew this was special.”

Special.  A long way from “same old, same old.”

Had I internalized the initial agents’ rejection or taken it at face value, GPYB would have never been published. However, I also needed to take responsibilty for what did need to change.  The responsibility for correctly showcasing the book was solely mine. 

There are reasons why I’m tying these two things together.  One is because some people have called my meeting Michael, “serendipitous.”  I call it just living my life.  I was out and about that night doing what I wanted to do. I didn’t need a date. I didn’t need to bring a friend along. I was bouncing around Cambridge, one of my favorite places, though it had once been a familiar stomping ground with an ex. 

Opening the Flood Gates of Hell 

The year before I met Michael, I was struggling to get over a breakup. In the midst of some of my heaviest grieving,  I had two friends accompany me to Cambridge to “take back” places that were now just painful reminders of my ex.  There is a therapy technique called flooding. When something brings painful reminders of a lost love, instead of avoiding it, you do the opposite. You flood your senses with it until it’s no longer painful.

Because I truly enjoyed Cambridge, I wanted to return there often. So I took two friends along and spent several days – going to the Harvard Square movie theater where my ex and I had seen so many great films, eating in our favorite restaurants and to listening to blues in Central Square clubs.

By going through that extremely painful exercise, I had taken back a place that meant a lot to me.  If I hadn’t,  I would have never been comfortable enough to be at that house warming, yet alone by myself. As I said on a recent podcast, there is no really no way my path should have ever crossed with Michael’s. The chances of us meeting were infinitesimally small. Had I still been avoiding Cambridge, it would have been less than zero.

Take Chances. Deliver Greatness.

Many people stay inside their shell after a breakup, too afraid to let go of the old without first knowing what the new looks like.  They not only don’t want to do anything new, they just want to pine away for what doesn’t work.  They want to want someone who doesn’t want them. They don’t want to take advantage of the unbelievable opportunities that a breakup affords you.

They remain muddled and confused, asking questions that don’t need to be asked over and over. Do I stay in or go out?  Do I look for new things or try to win back the old?  What if my friends are busy?  What if no one cares what I’m interested in or who I am?  Is it too late?  Am I too old?  What are the answers?  On second thought, what are the questions? 

GPYB states,  “While the aftermath of a breakup can be a devastating time, it can also be a tremendous opportunity for life-changing growth. A breakup can actually be a liberating time when you take charge of your life and make positive change happen–instead of waiting around for it to happen to you.”  Sometimes even what seems to be the smallest decision can bring life-changing possibilities. 

That brings us to Eva Iglesias (segue? what segue?).

Eva Iglesisas was 40 years old when she stepped onto the stage of Britian’s Got Talent. She gave a brief, self-deprecating introduction basically saying that she was there as a late bloomer. She wanted to do something with her singing. There was the usual talent show prattle from the judges and off she went to sing her song.  Within the first few notes, she mesmerized the audience with her rendition of Natural Woman.

When she finished, judge David Walliams complimented her, and she tearfully responded, “I was this close to not coming today.” The judges asked why and she said, “My heart was broken yesterday by someone I love who doesn’t love me anymore.” All the air seemed to go out of the massive auditorium. 

Simon Cowell, not the fluffiest of people, said, “That is one of the most beautiful songs of all time, written by Carole King after her heart was broken, so — (he leaned over to signal the producers, –‘you can bleep this’) — F&#!  em.”

F em.

Yes indeedy.    

F Eva’s ex and F Carole King’s ex and F my ex who almost destroyed my love of a city, and F agents with no vision or ability to evaluate anything and anyone.  

F them

AND F the idea of not living your life and not doing what others tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do or there’s no room for you or it’s been done or over done or done way too much.

F all of them, as a matter of fact. 

You can do this. 

And if anyone tells you that you can’t, F them too.

(btw, video of Eva’s audition below)

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