What Rejection Is, Isn’t, and Could Be

We have all had the experience of being rejected, and none of us liked it. Applied for a job and got the “thank you for your interest” letter? Saw an attractive girl at bookstore, so you mustered all your courage to ask her for a cup of coffee, only to hear the words “nah that’s ok”? Or in my case, prepared an investment pitch for months but only to get a cold and impersonal rejection through email? These experiences can sting us for a long time and make us less likely to try things again. As the result, we reject ourselves and lose opportunities.

But does it have to be this way? Is rejection some sort of unavoidable and incurable disease that will bring pain to us every time we face it? If you have followed me a for while, you know my answer will be a resounding no. In fact, I am rejecting the notion that rejection has to be feared. To tell you why, let us exam what rejection is, isn’t and could be.

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What rejection is:

1. A constant figure in life – Ben Franklin famously said there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Let’s welcome the third member – rejection. From the President to the CEO, from the secretaries to the donut makers, everyone gets rejected in their lives.

2. An opinion of others – someone rejected us because in their opinion, it is the best course of action for them. The world is filled with an overabundance of free opinions, and rejections are no excerption. Rejection says more about the rejector than the rejected.

3. A fluid number  - there is no such thing as a permanent rejection. In fact, it is impossible for the entire world to reject us. Every rejection has a number. If we talk to enough people without giving up, a rejection will become an acceptance.

What rejection isn’t:

1. A problem can be avoided or outgrown – often the more responsibility and influence a person has, the more likelihood that she will be rejected by more people. A middle manager’s marketing plan might get rejected by 5 executives, whereas the President’s healthcare plan could get rejected by half of the country. Hoping to avoid rejection is rather a foolish attempt.

2. An objective truth about us – just because people believed the world was flat didn’t mean it actually was. For the same reason, a company rejecting our job application says nothing about our ability to perform as an employee. Taking other’s opinion about you as truth is very counter-productive.

3. An end of our quest – unless we stop at a rejection, the rejection should never be the end of our quest. It took J K Rowling 12 tries to get Harry Potter published. If she stopped at any of the 11 rejections, the battle between Potter and Voldemort would have happened in a trashcan or shredder somewhere rather than in 500 million books, 1 billion movie showing and 7 billion minds.

What rejection could be:

1. A tool for motivation – Michael Jordan was famous for using boos from the opposing fans to motivate himself. Later in his career, he got so popular that everyone would cheer for him. Yet, he would pick out the one boo from a thousand cheers, and use it to fuel himself. The best in business always uses rejections as motivation.

2. A gauge for impact – there is a big difference between being rejected and being ignored. Being ignored often means our idea has no impact. But being actively rejected could mean our idea has the potential for large impact. History is filled with impactful figures overcoming violent rejections, from Jesus Christ to Nelson Mandala, from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr.

3. A necessity for worthiness – Just like a story without conflict isn’t worth telling, and like a hero without failure isn’t a real hero, a quest without rejection isn’t worth pursuing. When we keep going despite the nos, when we keep getting up after being stiff-armed, when we shed tears of victory after tears of defeat, we are the real hero, pursuing a worthy quest, and writing a great story.

Now let me hear from you. What is rejection to you?

Rejection 99 – Ask Strangers to Rate My Look

How good do I look to the public eye? What would happen if I ask strangers to rate my looks, from 1-10? As a happily married man, I care much less about looking attractive in front of others now than I did when I was single. However, I would be lying to say that I’ve never considered the first question. And the second question? It would be a very scary proposition, both asking the question and hearing the answers.

This is rejection seeking, doing something scary and understanding just how scary it could be.

Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQzoyxwplWM

This experiment turned out to be much easier than I originally imagined. People are nice and more than willing to give me high scores. And yes, it helped that I showered, put on a clean shirt, and took off the old-man socks as requested. Yet, it again showed how much scarier our imagination is than the real world. I couldn’t get a low score when tried. I was in fact secretly hoping for a 2 just to get a taste of rejection, but it didn’t happen.

Learning:

1. Our imagination often takes us to the worst possible outcome, causing us to be much less likely to take that action. We are really our own worst rejectors.

2. People are rarely mean, or brutally honest to others in personal settings. When you ask for feedback, understand that the answer could be skewed.

3 Ways to Come Up With Rejection Ideas

“How do you come up with all these creative rejection ideas?” This is one of the most common questions my readers ask me. It would be fun to say I am a creative genius because I’m a secret child of Steve Jobs and Lucy Liu, but it wouldn’t be true… actually, that would be so wrong, but I digress. Although I love to think outside of the box, but imagination alone wouldn’t be enough for me to come up with hundreds of ideas. If you want to try this on your own, here are three ways you can come up with rejection ideas that fit your own personality, lifestyle and preference.

1. Do Really Cool Things

Fill in the blank: It would be really cool if they can let me _________ (a cool activity) at _________ (a place manned by people).

For example, if you have always wanted to fly a plane, ask a pilot for it. If you would love to feed the big cat at a zoo, ask the zookeeper for ways to do it. Make sure you ask with respect, and if they say yes, you will have a great experience. (But make sure you follow their lead. I don’t want to see your name under CNN’s headline – Californian Man Under Critical Condition After Attempting to Arm Wrestle a Liger.)

2. Go for Your Big Dream

What do you really want to do? Is there anything on your bucket list that involves permission from others? If there is nothing involves permission, you just need to start doing them now. No one is stopping it but you. If something does involve permission, just ask for it. For example, it has been my dream to give a lecture in college. I asked for it and got it.

I have a reader whose dream is to be involved in research on alternative universe and time travel. Though not a scientist, he wants to be a pioneer in the research subject and asked me for advice. Sounds crazy and far-fetched? I told him to google the science research papers on the subject, and email the authors to express interest. He took my advice. After a few referrals, he’s now in touch with a leading scientist at Cal-Tech. A couple decades into the future, he might be sitting on the first-ever time machine. The odds of that happening are still very low, but it was 0% before he asked.

Of course, if your dream is to become the President, calling the White House for permission isn’t the best idea. You can break down your big goal into smaller rejection attempts. For example, calling your governor’s office and asking to be on the campaign staff might be good starting points.

3. Ask for Other’s Ideas

Many of my rejection ideas come from my readers. Some of them made my best episodes. For example, I took someone’s advice and asked to be a Live Mannequin at Abercrombie.

No matter how cool your project sounds, you can’t do it alone. Even if you could, it would be a lonely road to walk. Ask for ideas from your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to be judged and rejected. If you really believe in something, go for it and involve others.

Rejection attempts are not about getting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but about putting yourself in the awkward situation to ask for something you really want. If others let you do it, you need to be very happy to carry through. If not, congratulate yourself on having the courage to ask. You will improve yourself either way.

Feel free to share your experience publicly using comments or privately through email at jia at fearbuster.com.

Rejection 98 – Take a Tour Underneath a Plane

Seeing your flight get delayed over and over again without end is one of my greatest fears. In fact, maybe I should do 100 Days of Being Stuck in Airports – flying all around the world without ever stepping out of airports. That would be cruel and character-building to the extreme.

When unpleasantness happens, seeking rejection has become my go-to move to lighten things up. If you told me I could improve my mood by hearing ‘NO’ a few months ago, I would say you were crazy. Now, it works better than Cheezburger.com and a self-tickling machine combined.

Would the airline give me a tour underneath the plane? I would love to get a group picture with suitcases.

 

You might be curious how I could have fun while getting rejected. I’ve learned not to care too much about a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and how others perceive me. That has translated into an increase in my confidence, communications skills, and entrepreneurial drive. Just look at my first video and this one to see the difference.

Learning: Rejection itself is not inherently hurtful, especially if you detach yourself from the outcome and practice it over and over again.

Rejection 97 – Give a Speech on the Street

Based on my Google keyword search, there are 10 things people fear the most.

On that list, I’ve already tried:
#1 Fear of Flying and
#3 Fear of Heights,

this entire blog is about tackling
#8 Fear of Rejection,

and for now at least, I have no interest in confronting
#6 Fear of Death
#9 Fear of Spiders…

I want to take a shot at #2: Fear of Public Speaking.

Of course, I have done public speaking before and I have a great passion for it. However, my previous speeches were in places where people expected me to speak and were receptive to my message. What would happen I held up a sign on the street and give a speech there instead of in the auditoriums? Would people still welcome my message? The thought of that makes me want to throw up already. In fact, I might have to reconsider which is worse: public storytelling or spiders.

On my 97th rejection attempt, I made a sign and went to the streets of Austin, attempting to tell strangers my story.

As you can tell in my video, the toughest part was not the speech but the time leading up to it.

I keep shaking my head at how purely psychological fear can be. Even knowing that I shouldn’t care about how others perceive me, and understanding that the worst that could happen is being ignored, the fear of being judged and rejected by strangers is still there. There was a classic book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and that was the exact approach I took with this request. As soon as I opened my mouth and people stopped to listen, the rest was smooth sailing.

In the end, I am so glad I did it.

Learning: Sometimes no matter how hard you train yourself, the fear of rejection will still be there. However, you’ve strengthened yourself and minimized your enemy – fear. If you rely on the strength, and “feel the fear and do it anyway,” you will always be glad you did.

Jia Jiang’s 2013 Commencement Address to The Hague University

One day, I received an email from a person named Tobias. He lives in the Netherlands and works for The Hague University of Applied Sciences. He asked me if I could make a short video to encourage the graduating students on overcoming rejection.

When someone asks me to do something that might take a lot of effort and without any compensation, I have a few choices to make. I could:

1. say no
2. say yes and do it as a quickly favor
3. say yes and give my best effort

I chose #3, because I believe in the cause. I love connecting with young people. They are the most overlooked crowd when it comes to rejection. Many times, the love and shelter we created for them make us feel that they don’t experience rejection as much as adults do. I believe it is wrong.

In the United States, nearly 1 in 6 high school students has seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 has attempted it. That’s an astonishingly sad number. One of the leading causes is that youth is the most vulnerable and least equipped group to handle social rejections. This is also magnified by the prevalence of bullying on social media.

Therefore, when Tobias made this request, I went through tens of hours of work to script, produce and film the video. As a former shy teenager who migrated to a new country, I understand the pain of rejection. I want to let the youth know that:

1. they are not alone;
2. rejections can make them stronger and smarter;
3. people like me turned out OK despite the rejections. :)

And in the end, I gave a commencement speech! How cool is that?

July 4th 2012 -The Day I Gained True Independence

It’s Independence Day. Last night, as my wife and I were watching the sky colored with beautiful fireworks, my mind went all the way back to exactly one year ago. It was the day that everything changed in my life.

Sochi 2014 - One Year To Go

7/4/2012, my then pregnant wife and I were also watching fireworks. We sat on the grass of a big community park, surrounded by other families cheering for the extravaganza. I was as depressed as a man could be. At the time, I was a six-figure-income earner at a Fortune 500 company. As the baby was getting close to make his debut in the world, my entrepreneurial dream was about to say goodbye. As the father of a newborn child, I was supposed to provide financial security. It was time to lock up my dream of becoming a world-class entrepreneur for good. I didn’t make the jump when I had the chance. It was too late then. Game over!

As the firework glared in the sky, I was visualizing the rest of my life unfolding. I would someday get another promotion, manage more people, double my salary, buy a new car, and grow my 401K. We would have another baby or two. Every year we would engage in the cycle of school-summer vacation-school-holidays. Eighteen cycles later, my kids would go to college, and we would be old. I would help my employers sell a lot of products, develop a lot of processes, and train a lot of employees. I would have made no real impact in the world, and I would die full of regret someday.

“Crap”, I murmured as the mental slideshow of my future ended on a funeral scene. “What’s wrong?” My wife was concerned. “I missed the boat, and my life is going to suck”, I replied. As I explained what just went through my mind, I was expecting a wife educating her husband on how to be dependable, grateful and content. Instead, she said, “If you aren’t happy, I am not happy. You know, I married a man with the dream and ambition to change the world. You need to give me that man. “

We then sat down and devised an entrepreneurial plan that involved quitting my job, building a startup for six months, and deciding on what happens next based on traction. The next day, I called my manager and gave my resignation. Two weeks later, I surrendered my badge and walked out of the office one last time. And four days after, I held my son as he came to the world. I shocked everyone – colleagues, family, friends, and even myself.

Exactly one year later, as I was holding my wife’s hands watching another firework show, I knew I was lucky to have married this amazing woman. I was also fortunate to have divorced my dependence on the false sense security that came with a regular job. Yes, a paycheck every two weeks is good. But if the prices were abandoned dreams, an unfulfilled life, and irreversible regret, then no matter how large the number is on that check, it would not be worth it.

July 4th is to celebrate a nation’s independence from a foreign government. For all the entrepreneurs, artists, and professionals who want to make a difference in the world, it should also serve as a reminder that we need to be independent of the false sense of security, and celebrate our freedom to pursue our passion and dreams. We only live one life, and why not live to the fullest?

Rejection 96 – Interview a Female Bodybuilder for a Reader

Throughout my 100 rejections quite a few requests originated from my readers/viewers. In terms of strangeness, this one today is near the top. And in term of the requester’s persistence, this one beats number two by a mile… or 44 miles.

John, also known as Casino2004 on Youtube, sent me 44 messages asking me to interview a female bodybuilder. For me the most important question is never ‘what’, but ‘why’. He explained that he is attracted to female bodybuilders, but was often blown off by them. Fearing rejection, he asked me to interview one on his behalf.

I often think that every rejection has a number. If you meet that number, the rejection will turn into an acceptance. For this request, the number is 44. Today, I found a local female bodybuilder online named Melanie Daly and sat down with her for an interview. Oh, I didn’t forget about my own crazy request. Wait until the end.

 

After this episode I learned that not everyone can be Oprah Winfrey and Larry King. I might be there someday but today isn’t that day.

I also learned that people who pay the most attention to their appearance, whether as a model or as a bodybuilder are very sensitive or even insecure about how they look. People like John aren’t the only ones afraid of rejections, the rejectors are also afraid.

Learning: 1. Everyone is afraid of rejection. EVERYONE! To engage in genuine human connection we need to minimize the effect of fear as much as we can. When we aren’t afraid, we help others to be less afraid and we are all better for it.

2. Rejection is often a numbers game. If you want something bad enough and try it over and over again, you might just get it.