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How many of you like gifts? Great! When I was six years old, I received my gifts. My first grade teacher had this brilliant idea. She wanted us to experience receiving gifts but also to learn the virtue of complimenting each other. So she had all of us come to the front of the classroom, and she bought all of us gifts and stacked them in the corner. She said, “Why don’t we just stand here and compliment each other? If you hear your name called, go and pick up your gift and sit down.” What a wonderful idea, right? What could go wrong?
Well, there were 40 of us to start with, and every time I heard someone’s name called, I would give out the heartiest cheer. And then there were 20 people left, and 10 people left, and 5 left, and 3 left. And I was one of them. And the compliments stopped. Well, at that moment, I was crying. And the teacher was freaking out. She was like, “Hey, would anyone say anything nice about these people? No one? OK, why don’t you go get your gift and sit down. You guys behave next year and someone might say something nice about you.”
Well, as I’m describing this to you, you probably know I remember this really well.
But I don’t know who felt worse that day. Was it me or the teacher? She must have realized that she turned a team-building event into a public roast for three six-year-olds, but without the humor. You know, when you see people get roasted on TV, it’s funny. There was nothing funny about that day.
It was one version of me, and I would die to avoid being in that situation again—to get rejected in public again. That’s one version. Then fast-forward eight years. Bill Gates came to my hometown of Beijing, China, to speak, and I saw his message. I fell in love with that guy. I thought, Wow, I know what I want to do now. That night I wrote a letter to my family telling them, “By age 25, I will build the biggest company in the world, and that company will buy Microsoft.”
I totally embraced this idea of conquering the world—domination, right? And I didn’t make this up; I did write that letter. And here it is. [visual]
You don’t have to read this through. This is also bad handwriting, but I did highlight some key words. You get the idea.
So, that was another version of me—one who will conquer the world.
Two years later I was presented with the opportunity to come to the United States. I jumped on it because that was where Bill Gates lived.
I thought that was the start of my entrepreneur journey. Then, fast-forward another 14 years. I was 30. Nope, I didn’t build that company. I didn’t even start. I was actually a marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company. And I felt I was stuck; I was stagnant. Why was that? Where was that 14-year-old who wrote that letter? It wasn’t because he didn’t try. It was because every time I had a new idea, every time I wanted to try something new, even at work—whether I wanted to make a proposal or whether I wanted to speak up in front of people in a group—I felt there was this constant battle between the fourteen-year-old and the six-year-old. One wanted to conquer the world, make a difference, and the other was afraid of rejection. And every time, that six-year-old won.
This fear even persisted after I started my own company. I mean, I started my own company when I was 30—if you want to be Bill Gates, you’ve got to start sooner or later, right? When I was an entrepreneur, I was presented with an investment opportunity, and then I was turned down. And that rejection hurt me. It hurt me so badly that I wanted to quit right there. But then I thought, Hey, would Bill Gates quit after a simple investment rejection? Would any successful entrepreneur quit like that? No way. And this is where it clicked for me. OK, I can build a better company. I can build a better team or a better product, but one thing is for sure: I’ve got to be a better leader. I’ve got to be a better person. I cannot let that six-year-old keep dictating my life anymore. I have to put him back in his place.
So this is where I went online and looked for help. Google was my friend.
I searched: “How do I overcome the fear of rejection?” I came up with a bunch of psychology articles about where the fear and pain are coming from. Then I came up with a bunch of rah-rah inspirational articles about “Don’t take it personally; just overcome it.” Who doesn’t know that?
But why was I still so scared? Then I found this website by luck. It’s called rejectiontherapy.com.
Rejection Therapy was a game invented by Jason Comely, a Canadian entrepreneur. Basically, the idea is for 30 days you go out and look for rejection, and every day you get rejected at something. Then, by the end, you desensitize yourself from the pain, and you can become a bad ass. And I loved that idea.
I said, “You know what? I’m going to do this. And I’ll film myself getting rejected for 100 days.” I came up with my own rejection ideas, and I made a video blog out of it. I want to become the baddest ass of them all.
I would do things like ask for $100 from a stranger. Then the next day, I would ask for a burger refill. And another day, I would ask for a pet store to cut my hair.
Those were the nos.
But as I was doing them, strange things started to happen. People started to say yes to me. For example, one day I had this soccer ball in my hand, and I knocked on a stranger’s door. The guy opened the door, and he was a big guy with a giant Texas flag on his T-shirt. If you are from Texas, you know people do that there. I asked him, “May I play soccer in your backyard?” He said, “Soccer in my backyard?” Then he looked at me and saw I was serious. I had a soccer ball, cleats, and shin guards all decked out. He said, “Sure, come on in.” I thought, Now what? How do I play soccer with myself in a backyard? So I went and did a little dribble. Before leaving, I asked, “How come you said yes to me?” He said, “This is so off the wall, how could I say no?”
Then there was another day, I was driving, and I saw a police car. I asked the police officer, “Can I drive your car? I don’t want to drive it away and get in trouble; I just want to give it a spin and listen to your radio. I want to feel like a police officer.” He said, “Sure. Why not?” So I drove a police car that day.
Then there was another day when I got a bunch of yeses in a row, and I got frustrated. I said, “This is supposed to be rejection therapy, not acceptance therapy. I need to get rejected somehow. How about flying a plane?” By the way, I have no idea how to fly a plane; I just wanted to get rejected that day. So I went to this airfield in Austin and asked a pilot-looking guy, “Do you have a plane?” He said, “Yes, I do.” I said, “Can I fly it?” He asked, “Do you know how to fly?” I said, “No.” He said, “No worries. I will teach you how to fly. Let’s go.” I said, “Why? What’s going on?” As it turned out, he didn’t own a commercial jetliner; he owned a gyroplane. It’s like a miniature helicopter or motorcycle in the air type of thing. He’s a hobbyist, and he wanted to show everyone how awesome his gyroplane was. And he taught me how to fly. It was amazing.
I actually have video evidence for all of these. You can go to my vlog to watch them. But speaking of videos, I have to show you one video that really shows the idea of asking for rejection but not getting it. Here it is.
These are the donuts. [visual] When I walked out of the store, I just couldn’t believe the customer service and human kindness. And the world couldn’t believe it either. The video got over five million views on YouTube.
Because of that, I was in newspapers, on talk shows, in everything. And I became famous. A lot of people started writing emails to me and saying, “What you’re doing is awesome.” But you know, fame and notoriety did not do anything to me. What I really wanted to do was learn and to change myself. So I turned the rest of my 100 days of rejection into this playground, into this research project. I wanted to see what I could learn.
I learned many things. The first thing I learned was what rejection is. What is this thing we are so afraid of? As it turns out, rejection is a number. If you go through enough nos, it becomes a yes. Any Harry Potter fans here? I am one. Harry Potter is the bestselling book in modern history. But the author J. K. Rowling had to go through 12 different rejections to get her book published. On the 13th try, the chairman of the publisher also rejected her, but handed the manuscript to his daughter, who would not put it down, and she finished it. That’s why they eventually published the book, and the rest was history. But if it took J. K. Rowling 12 rejections to get Harry Potter published, how many rejections do we have to go through to get ourselves published?
Then rejection is an opinion. I think the world needs many things. We need more love, sympathy, definitely more bathrooms, and free drinks, but one thing we have plenty of is people’s opinions. If you don’t believe me, just turn on your TV or get on the internet. Everyone has something to say about something, and they can’t wait to tell you how they feel about the world. Rejection is nothing more than an opinion and a preference of the rejecter. In fact, it says as much about the rejecter as the rejected. However, we mistake it as some sort of universal truth about ourselves, and we take it so personally.
Rejection is like chicken; it’s either yummy or yucky depending on how you cook it. It’s the fear of rejection that cripples us. In fact, the people who really change the world, who change the way we live and the way we think, are the people who were met with initial, and often violent, rejections. But they didn’t run. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or even Jesus Christ, these people did not let rejection define them. They let their own reaction after rejection define themselves. And they embraced rejection. You don’t have to be these folks to embrace rejection. Even as financial advisors, building your own business, taking the next steps when you get rejected instead of running away, you can ask yourself, Am I worthy of this rejection?
Now, before I end, I want to leave you with my last thought, the biggest lesson I learned from my 100 days of rejection. Just two words: Just ask.
Remember the example when I asked the random pilot at an airfield to fly his plane, and he said yes? I’ve had many flights in life, and they all involved taking my shoes and belt off while going through a cancer-inducing “bone” scanner, and sitting on the dirty carpet charging my phone. But this flight was nothing but awesomeness. I flew like a bird. In one minute, I was two feet above the cornfield and just skimming like a seagull above the ocean. The next minute, I was 1,000 feet in the sky kissing the clouds. Throughout all this time, I just had one thought: What if I didn’t ask? I would have had none of these. Then I thought about the people who wrote me emails and shared their stories. If we let the fear dictate our lives and avoid rejection, companies might not be built, or they might quit prematurely. Books might never be published. World-changing movements might never have been started.
We are afraid of rejection because we think it is so negative and scary. We lose something when we ask and get a no. So if we don’t ask, we avoid the negative and achieve net positive, right? Actually, that’s a lie. It’s a lie we tell ourselves every day. Because when you are not out there getting rejected because you are afraid, you are rejecting yourself as the result. If anyone is going to reject you, let the world reject you, and never reject yourself.
Jia Jiang is the founder of Wuju Learning, an organization that trains individuals to become fearless and overcome rejection. A speaker, blogger and author of “Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection,” his TedX talk is in the top 200 out of the 60,000 that have ever been given. His story has been shared on Bloomberg Businessweek, Yahoo News, Forbes and the Huffington Post.