The Bitter-Sweet Taste of Rejection

As with all forays into the deep, branching world of the internet, yesterday I randomly stumbled across an interesting insight on the psychology of rejection. People the world over have experienced rejection in some form – be it from a potential romantic partner, a possible place of employment, or a desired life event. Most people go well out of their way to avoid the negative feelings associated with rejection.

Jia Jiang is a surprising anomaly in that he actively sought out rejection after being denied investment funding. He called this personal journey “100 Days of Rejection Therapy” and aimed to overcome his fear of rejection, turning it into a source of strength and motivation. He describes Rejection Therapy as “a game that requires people to seek rejections on purpose by making difficult requests to strangers. The goal is to desensitize the participants from the fear and pain of rejection” (Biggs, 2013). By making one crazy request each day, for 100 days, he discovered several important things about rejection:

  • “In life, rejection is certain. Once you accept this fact, it will be easier to anticipate and to overcome moments of rejection;
  • Detach yourself from the results of a request, and you will become more confident and increase your chance for acceptance, or a “yes”;
  • The worst part of rejection is the fear of it. Do not let the fear prevent you from making your request;
  • Rejection is nothing more than someone else’s opinion. We should never consider it as truth about ourselves; and,
  • If we talk to enough people without giving up, a rejection will become an acceptance” (Biggs, 2013).

Scott Adams, creator of the infamous Dilbert comic strip, expounds a similar life philosophy by encouraging people to fail in his book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big“. In his 2013 interview with Gary Rosen from The Wall Street Journal (full details here), Scott warns against taking advice about successful people and their methods because no two situations are alike; in particular, be wary of advice that encourages you to “follow your passion” (Rosen, 2013). Scott wisely describes how failure can quickly diminish our passions for a project, whereas a steady, well-thought out project can increase our passions over time:

“In hindsight, it looks as if the projects that I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success” (Rosen, 2013).

He also describes how goals are for losers and systems are the way to achieve success:

“To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. […] But being systems-oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project that I happened to be working on” (Rosen, 2013).

Failure thus became a tool that Scott used to learn, grow, and adapt to be able to better survive future challenges. Similarly, Jia Jiang harnessed the power of rejection and supposed ‘failures’ to become a better person and businessman.

We should all strive to live happily with the unavoidable and uncomfortable or negative feelings associated with rejection and failure, and further, be prepared to learn from them. The advice provided by Scott Adams and Jia Jiang assist us in navigating through these difficult experiences.

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