I recommend that you take a 15 minute break from what you’re doing and watch a TED talk online called “What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection,” by Jia Jiang.
I shared this video with my first-year composition classes this week at Columbus State University, because we are gearing up to write letters of interest to companies and/or organizations with whom we’d like to collaborate.
Jia Jiang tells a story about being rejected once as a 6-year-old during a classroom team-building exercise. It was so humiliating and painful for him, that even as he got older and developed bold dreams for his future, he found himself constantly remembering the childhood pain of rejection. That pain was enough to keep him from asking for anything that would end in a “no.”
When Jiang turned 30 and found himself stuck in a career and life that he was unhappy with, he decided he had to do something about his fear of rejection. He opted to participate in “rejection therapy.” In a nutshell, he planned to do one crazy and bold thing every day that was likely to result in rejection. After 30 days of being rejected, he would be cured of his fear. Jiang decided that he would make it a 100-day plan, and record every one of the daily asks.
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The types of things Jiang asked to do were often laughable. He asked a stranger for $100. He asked a cashier at a burger joint for a “burger refill.” But what he found was that no matter how strange his requests were, there was a better chance of getting what he wanted if he would just stay engaged in the ask.
When he knocked on a stranger’s front door and asked if he could plant a flower in the backyard, the stranger said no. Jiang politely asked “why?” The stranger answered that his dog digs up everything in the backyard, so he wouldn’t want that flower wasted. He did, however, direct Jiang across the street to his neighbor who loves flowers. When Jiang asked the neighbor the same question, she happily obliged him.
Jiang brings that story up because it shows just how much we miss out on when we close up after being rejected. Had he simply apologized and walked away after the stranger told him “no,” he would never have gotten referred to the neighbor who was glad to receive the flower. He would likely have decided that he was rejected because the man thought he was too strange for asking, or was dressed too casually, or used the wrong words, etc. In fact, the man simply knew that flower wouldn’t make it a day in his backyard. By simply following up and/or speaking through the concerns of the “ask-ee,” we are more likely to receive an answer we are happy with.
I fear rejection as much as the next person. But after hearing Jiang’s talk, I’m inspired to ask more boldly for what I want and to stay engaged and hopeful even when met with rejection.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at email@example.com.