The Power of Rejection

Most of us spend our entire lives trying to avoid rejection, but what if the answer is to embrace rejection instead of always running from it? I recently watched a Ted Talk video of Jia Jiang speaking about his experience of 100 days of rejection, where he actually sought out being turned down for random requests for 100 straight days. His requests were far from ordinary and ranged from asking a complete stranger for $100 to asking for a refill on his hamburger at a local fast food restaurant.

What he found through his 100 day experiment was that if he resisted the urge to run away from the rejection and instead embrace the uncomfortable feeling while staying engaged with the person after being turned down, that it actually was not him that they were rejecting. In most cases, this rings true for us as well. Most of us feel that when our requests are met with a flat “no”, that it is we who are being rejected rather than our request or idea.

Jiang’s experiment actually paid off on the third try when his request for donuts at the local donut shop, made into the shape and color of the olympic rings was met with a “yes, we can do that for you.” You can watch that video here.

The truth is that rejection comes in all shapes and sizes but it always feels the same; embarrassing and hurtful. We have all been rejected at some point in our life and most of us are not willing to go out and intentionally look for more of it, but what if there is something incredibly beautiful on the other side; something freeing? There is a famous quote from Steve Maraboli that says, “Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.”

In fact we can find stories by the hundreds of company founders, product inventors, and other successful entrepreneurs who were turned down over and over again before getting to the yes that they needed. One of those is Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz who was turned down 242 times by hundreds of banks before getting to the yes that he needed to propel Starbucks into history. If he had given up after the first dozen or so rejections, we would all be drinking gas station coffee today.

My point is that while rejection can sting, it actually hurts worse if we let it stop us in our tracks. In Jiang’s experiment, one of his rejections came when he asked a stranger if he could plant a flower in his backyard (a little weird right?). The stranger said no, but then instead of walking away, Jiang asked “why”.

The stranger said, “because I have a dog in my backyard who tears everything up, so it would never last back there.” You see, he wasn’t rejecting Jiang, but he actually had a legitimate concern. In fact, he then points Jiang to his neighbor and says to ask “Carol” because she loves flowers. Guess what? There’s now a flower planted in Carol’s backyard.

Most often when we have a request turned down, the person (rejectioner?) on the other side is not rejecting us, only our idea. If, instead of walking away with our heads hung down in shame, we engage the person with a simple “why”, we could find that it leads us right to the yes that we are searching for. Be brave today and try it. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe someone ends up with a nice flower in their backyard or perhaps you score a sweet set of Olympic-ringed donuts!