Think about the last time you were rejected. Maybe it was by your boss or partner or even a stranger. Either way, it was probably painful. In fact, for many of us rejection is downright terrifying — so much so that we try to avoid it at all costs.
Our fear of rejection might stop us from pursuing our dreams or passions, from even entertaining certain ideas (what if others think this is dumb? Never mind I’ll just scrap it). It might stop us from pursuing a relationship, like asking someone out. It might stop us from talking to a professor or supervisor about a project.
Our fear might persuade us to conform and become someone we’re not.
Jia Jang also had a big fear of rejection. But he decided to go out of his way to seek it repeatedly. His intention was to get comfortable with rejection after a professional rejection really devastated him.
Ever since he was a boy in Beijing, Jiang yearned to be an entrepreneur. With his wife’s support, he left a secure, well-paying job to pursue his dream. He assembled a great team to create an app. However, when they presented their app to an experienced investor, they got a no.
As Jiang writes in his insightful, inspiring book Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection:
…I started doubting my idea: The investor is an entrepreneurial veteran. If he thinks my company is not worth investing in, there must be some truth to it.
I started doubting myself, too: Who do you think you are? Who told you that you were ordained to be a successful entrepreneur? You are living a childish dream. Welcome to reality, my friend! Start-up success is for special geniuses like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. You are just like everybody else — a wannabe.
Then I started getting angry with myself: What the hell were you doing? How foolish were you, giving up a good job and diving headfirst into an unknown venture?
I also felt sorry for Tracy [his wife], convinced that I had let her down and that she’d be so disappointed in me. You see how painful that was? Are you going to go through all that and get rejected again? No way!
Finally, I started getting scared: Now what? What are your friends going to say? Your in-laws? They probably think you’re irrational and an irresponsible husband and father — and maybe you are.
Rejection doesn’t just sting. It makes us question or dismiss whatever we’ve created. It makes us question ourselves as individuals. It confirms our worst nightmares, our inner critic’s blistering beliefs. It shakes up our self-worth, and hurts us at our core.
Jiang was inspired to pursue rejection after reading about Jason Comely’s “Rejection Therapy.” According to Jiang, “…you purposely and repeatedly seek out rejection to desensitize yourself to the pain of the word no.“
He vowed to seek out rejection 100 times. He decided to videotape his attempts and start a blog about his experiences. You’ll find the videos of each rejection on his website.
Jiang’s rejection project taught him these key lessons, which he shares in his book — and can help us rethink rejection and see it for what it really is.
1. Rejection isn’t a unanimous judgment.
In one of his rejection experiments Jiang decided to show up to different offices with his resume and request a job for one day. He asked everyone the same question: “Can I work here for one day?”
The first two people said no. But the third person actually said yes to his request. Jiang realized that the reason for the different responses was simply different people.
As he writes, “Their responses reflected their own attitudes, sense of curiosity, and risk tolerance — which varied quite a bit among them.”
This is a powerful realization, because we often assume that rejection is some ultimate sign from the universe of our inferiority. It’s not. Instead, it’s a “human interaction, with at least two parties involved in every decision.”
2. Rejection is just an opinion.
Similarly, we assume that rejection is the universal, ultimate truth. But in actuality, it’s someone’s opinion, which is based on a slew of factors.
According to Jiang, “That opinion could be based on [a person’s] mood, their needs and circumstances at that moment, or their knowledge, experience, education, culture, and upbringing over a lifetime. Whatever was guiding them at the time I entered their lives, these forces were usually much stronger than my presentation, my personality, or my request itself.”
3. Rejection is a numbers game.
This lesson is especially evident in the publishing field. Jiang explored how often famous books were rejected. For instance, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times; Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected 60 times; and Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
One publisher even made this comment about Lord of the Flies: “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
Many of us take rejection to heart. Hearing no bruises us, especially if it’s a harsh response, like the publisher’s comment.
But getting rejected doesn’t mean that our ideas are terrible, or worse, that we’re terrible. Instead, rejection is a human interaction, an opinion and a matter of numbers.
According to Jiang: “If I viewed other people’s opinions as the main judgment of merit — which is what I was doing when I took every rejection to heart — then my life would be a miserable mess. I’d be basing my self-worth, and even the course of my life, on the whims and judgments of other people.”
Revising our perspective on rejection is vital. Because the truth is that rejection isn’t the ultimate truth.
Refusal photo available from Shutterstock