When you order coffee at Starbucks, did you ever try to ask, “Can I get a 20% discount?” Or did you ever try to walk up to a stranger and say “Hi, today’s birthday, can I take a selfie with you to celebrate my birthday?” Or “I just lost my wallet, can I borrow you a hundred dollars?”
I guess most people think these requests are so crazy and weird that even if you were brave enough or stupid enough to ask, you would most likely get rejected or even worse – being laughed at, making a dam fool out of yourself. That’s why so many people, like me, would rather not ask for things, rather not speak our minds, rather not take risks just to avoid the possibility of rejection.
Because the pain of rejection hurts so much and so personal that we would rather reject ourselves before even trying – before anyone could get the chance rejecting us. As a result, we have heard all these heart-breaking stories of dreams, loves, opportunities, and ambitions that were never fulfilled or realized.
Like many people, I have been searching for anything that could cure my fear of rejection for years. I read blogs and books, I went to those meetup groups to meet and talk to strangers. But they didn’t help much until one day I stumbled upon a real-life story about a guy named Jia Jiang who came to the US from Beijing to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
After getting his MBA from Duke University, Jia tried to start his own business but ended in heartbreaking rejection. His business proposals were turned down by many VCs, he was being told “No” so many times that left him felt like a total failure. He was crashed and spiraled into a period of depression. At the end, Jia realized if he wanted to achieve anything meaningful in his life, he had to overcome his fear of rejection.
100 days of rejection
So he searched for help, and he found something called Rejection Therapy. It was a game developed by a Canadian entrepreneur Jason Comely in which you repeatedly went out and look for rejections. The idea was the more rejections you get, the less painful you would feel towards rejection. Jia loved that idea, he loved it so much that I decided to do it for one hundred days and he would video the whole process and post them on a blog named “100 days of rejection” so that the whole world could watch them and held him accountable for finishing all those rejections.
Jia started going out and asking people for some crazy, ridiculous stuff hoping to get rejected on a daily basis. For examples, he went to a burger joint and asked the cashier, “Can I get a burger refill? The cashier was so confused, “What is burger refill? Never heard of it.” (It’s just like a drink refill but with a burger). Of course, he got rejected. Then the next day he went to a stranger’s house, knocked on door and asked the guy, “Is it possible for you to take picture of me playing soccer in your backyard?” Sounds crazy, right? No, not even close. One day Jia was flying, before his flight took off, he asked the flight attendant, “Can I give the safety announcement on the loudspeaker instead of you?”
Although Jia got rejected again and again as he had expected, some amazing things happened, as he got more comfortable asking, he started getting yeses a lot more than he thought. For instance, one day he went to a donuts shop and asked the staff, “Can you make me some donuts that look like the Olympics symbol?” You might think there’s no way they would say yes, right? But surprisingly they said yes, and 15 minutes later, the donuts maker came out with a box of donuts looked exactly like the Olympic symbol, with five donuts in different colors interlinked together, just like the Olympics rings.
Jia was so touched. He just couldn’t believe it. That donuts shop video got over 5 million views on YouTube in just two weeks. Apparently, the world couldn’t believe that either.
What Jia had discovered through his “100 days of rejection” journey was how important his communication style was to the outcomes he was getting. If he was confident, friendly, and calm, rather than nervous and timid, people seemed more inclined to go along with his requests, even if they said no, they at least stayed engaged longer to ask questions. If he could just figure out the right way to communicate in each situation, he would increase his chances of turning a no into a yes.
My own rejection therapy
After learning about Jia’s story, I was so inspired that I wanted to try my own rejection therapy. I asked myself what kind of rejection to which guys are most afraid of? Any guy here knows the answer?
I believed the kind of rejection that guys fear most is rejected by girls! Just imagine how would you feel if someone points a gun to your head and force you to approach to a random girl on the street and say, “Hi you are so cute, can I get you phone number?” You understand what I mean? It would be so embarrassing if you get rejected that you might rather being shot in the head.
Well, that was exactly what I was trying to do. I went to all these big parties in town, Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve parties with hundreds of people showed up where I could meet as many girls as possible. My goal was simply to strike up conversations with as many girls as I could and to see if I could get their numbers.
At the first couple of times, I was nervous, I fumbled my words, and my heart was pounding liked I’d just downed five cups of coffee. But what happened after I repeatedly pushed myself to do this was simply amazing. I realized that if I just force myself to stop worrying about whether the girls liked me or not, whether they said yes or no, I felt much more relax and confident. And as a result, I got more phone numbers from girls.
Seeing everything as a lesson
The secret is you must constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone to train your mind to think that it’s okay to get rejected because people are just rejecting your request, not rejecting you as a person. There’s a huge difference. In fact, one of the reasons people fear rejection so much is they cannot separate rejection from who they are as a person.
The most useful tool I have learned to separate rejection from your personal identity, is seeing everything as a lesson. In this mindset, every rejection, every challenge, every setback, every failure becomes a teacher, which you can ask, “What’s the message? What am I supposed to learn?” When I asked myself these questions, I can separate rejection from who I am as a person. I can create more space for myself to carefully choose how to respond to different situations instead of reacting to whatever happens to me.
Always remember this: Rejection (or any failure) can be painful or helpful, it all depends on whether you take it personal or take it as a lesson. If you take it personal, every possible rejection would be a fight or flight situation to you. If you take it as a lesson, every possible rejection would be an opportunity for you to learn and grow mentally, emotionally, and psychologically.
In the end, what we really need is not acceptance or approval from others but acceptance from ourselves. Who we are is good enough to get a yes from ourselves.
Important lessons about rethinking rejection
- Detach from results: By focusing on controllable factors such as our effort and actions, and by detaching ourselves from uncontrollable outcomes such as acceptance and rejection, we can achieve greater success in the long run.
- Give “Why”: By explaining the reason behind your request, you have a higher chance to be accepted.
- Acknowledge doubts: By admitting obvious and possible objections in your request before the other person, you can increase the trust level between the two parties. For instance, you may say, “I know it’s a very unusual request and would be perfectly fine if you say no…”
- Ask “Why”: Sustain the conversation after the initial rejection. The magic word is “why,” which can often reveal the underlying reason for the rejection and present the rejectee with the opportunity to overcome the issue.
- Reframe rejection as lesson learned: Learning takes the stigma out of rejection. If rejection means you’re more likely to succeed when you try again, rejection won’t hit you as hard. Learning takes despair and turns it into excitement.
- Rejection is an opinion: Remember rejection is just an opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just an opinion of somebody has about you at that moment. It is heavily influenced by historical context, cultural differences, and psychological factors. It says more about the rejector than the rejectee.