Handling rejection without pooping your pants
Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection
by Jia Jiang
Handling rejection is one of the biggest challenges each of us faces. Many of us will hide and ignore their true wishes for fear of facing rejection's pain. It's almost as if the other person has the power to crush us, and we avoid being vulnerable for that very reason.
Jia Jiang is a writer who gained fame and fortune for his pursuit of rejection as a way of diminishing its power over him. This book is a documentation of his 100 days of asking for things, most of them silly and likely to be rejected. He has a website, Rejection Therapy, a TED talk, a viral video, and this bestselling book, so somehow he figured out a way to get people to say "yes" to him.
As a writer, I'm very used to being rejected, though usually it is an anonymous rejection when your letters and emails don't get responded to. The few rejections I get are rarely informative, so this book showed an interesting perspective.
While I enjoyed the book, I had several problems with it. Most of the requests were off-the-wall, and a rejection would be less harmful because there's little Jiang would lose besides a bit of time and/or embarrassment. He tried to hand apples of $5 bills to random strangers. He asked the manager at Costco if he could say something over the intercom. He offered to work for someone for one day only. He interviewed a panhandler, flew a plane, tried to be a bad salesman, and asked to plant a flower in a stranger's yard.
I did not count 100 different attempts, not even half that many. I imagine Jiang didn't include the ones that didn't go so well. The lessons he takes from the ones he does talk about are interesting, but the title of the book left me wanting to see the whole list.
The worst aspect of his journey is that on his third day he hit pay dirt. He asked a donut shop owner if she would make a set of donuts in the shape of the Olympic rings. After some explaining, she agreed to do it, and ended up not charging him for it. The video of this attempt became viral (see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ax2CsVbrX0) and Jiang became instantly famous. In my mind, this amazing act that got him instant fame and TV talk show invitations kind of ruined the rest of the attempts. He wasn't able to top that experience, and didn't get to suffer the real pain of repeated rejections that most of us have to deal with. Still, an inspiring and lucky story on day 3.
The best part of the book for me was his discussions of why rejection is so hard and strategies for getting over it. It turns out that fear of rejection is a deeply ingrained emotion that explains why public speaking is our darkest fear. Since man is a social creature, we fear being cast out of our "tribes" for fear of having to go it alone. In the hunter-gatherer days people who were cast out usually ended up dying, so rejection was a life or death matter. Now, however, rejection has none of that power over our survival, and we need to deal with how to overcome those primitive emotions.
One of the best things you can do when rejected is to ask the other person why. Getting information is the key to improving yourself for the next attempts. Put yourself in the rejector's shoes and see things from their perspective. If you change your requests and switch them up you may be more likely to get to a yes.
Jiang says that rejection is only an opinion, and never a final verdict on your value as a person. Rejection also has a number, and almost anybody can get to a yes if they ask enough people. JK Rowling was rejected 12 times before someone agreed to publish her first Harry Potter book, and the annals of the entertainment industry are full of famous people and acts that got rejected repeatedly. One study I read said that the average job hunter faces 24 rejections before getting an offer.
There is no way most of us will ever get on the Supreme Court, given that there are only 9 justices and spots open up very infrequently. So applying to something like that, or pursuing other things like rock star fame, movie stardom, or $10 million sports contracts is inviting repeated rejection. Rejection can be both crushing or motivating, but before you even start you have to know and accept yourself and have realistic goals. Because its impossible to ask everybody everything, there's no telling what we might be missing out on if we'd just ask.
This book shows people that it's okay to be a little weird and think out of the box. You just never know where and when the yeses might come from. But the hard truth is that you have to be mentally tough and not take rejection personally- maintain a detached distance from the actual results. If you see most of your requests as a win/win proposition and behave authentically, people will respond to you. If not with a yes, maybe with information that will get you closer to a yes.
I don't know about 100 days as a magic number, but I hope to improve my asking muscles after reading this book. It's much easier to accept what already exists than to ask for more. But thank goodness we have people like Oliver Twist who are willing to face the dangers of rejection and challenge the status quos of life.