Cam Adair, founder of Game Quitters, discusses The Surprising Truth About Rejection at TEDxFargo Conference (Transcript)
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The surprising truth about rejection by Cam Adair at TEDxFargo
Growing up I was a fairly normal Canadian kid. My day consisted of: be going to school, playing hockey and then going home to play video games. I was a talented hockey player. I had friends and I was even able to flirt with girls a little bit. I was happy. In fact, I was so happy that my nickname growing up was smiley, as you can see.
But then that all changed and it changed when I began to experience rejection in my life. The first time I was rejected by a girl, I was 11 years old, in the sixth grade. It was by a girl named Amanda who I had the crush on. My family lived in a home by a lake in Calgary, Canada. So naturally being in Canada, the lake would freeze over during the winter, or as we like to call it, nine months of the year.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I decided I was going to ask Amanda to be my valentine. So I conjured up a plan with her friends to leave her at the other end of the lake so I could skate over like the knight and shining hockey gear I was and asked for that all-important question, when you’re 11 years old. Nervous yet excited I skated over and when I got there, I told her I had a question to ask, and even though I could have waited four more days so she had to say yes. I — I wanted to know the real answer: Will you be my Valentine?
She looked over at me and with confidence said, ‘No, sorry.’ And she skated off. Instant pain shot through my chest as my heart broke for the first time. And I remember — standing there in shock for a few minutes, I remember thinking that this — this would be a night I would never forget. I had been rejected.
Two years later, I was in the eighth grade. There was a new hockey program starting up where all the top hockey players in my city would go to school together. During the day we’d go to class with all the other school kids and after class we’d have extra ice time with top-level coaches and trainers. That sounds amazing, right? It wasn’t.
Because I played hockey with a lot of kids, the year started off well. Hockey is such an important sport in Canada that allowed me to become a member of the popular kids. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out how I thought it would. Although I was a member of the popular kids, as the year went on I began to notice that I was the one who is the outcast. I was the one not invited to parties, the one who began to be picked on. It was weird, because all my hockey teams, all of these kids were friends with me, but at school it was as if I didn’t even matter. And it only got worse.
Eventually the bullying got so bad that the fun game to play was put in a garbage can. Every day at lunch time, a group of ninth graders would gang up and chase me around the school, trying to put me in a garbage can. I would kick and scream and squirm and do everything in my power, because every ounce of self worth that I had left depended on me not being put in that garbage can. I was in the eighth grade and still I was rejected.
Two years later, I was 15 and I just made a hockey team I’d always dreamed of. Shortly after making the team we had a game in Red Deer, Alberta, two hours from my hometown. After the game we got on the team bus to head back home. And tired from the game I was laying down in the backseat, listening to music when one of the assistant coaches’ sons who had accompanied us on the trip came and started poking fun at me.
Tired from the game and exhausted from years of dealing with this type of stuff. I decided to just ignore him. As he noticed he wasn’t getting a reaction from me, he escalated further. Just keep ignoring, just keep ignoring him. So he escalated further to the point where he began to spit on me. He started to spit on me. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wants to go beast mode on this kid. But instead — instead I froze and for the next hour I laid crouched in fetal position, holding on to a picture of a girl I had a crush on named Lindsay, because I knew the only thing that was going to get me through that experience was the strength her picture to give me.
I made the hockey team and still I was rejected. I was rejected by a girl, by a classroom and by my hockey team. But to me it was bigger than that, because I felt rejected by people in general, I felt unaccepted, unwelcome and I felt unsafe. I felt like I didn’t matter. All I wanted was to be accepted but here I was not. Most importantly I felt confused: why was I the one being rejected? Why was I the one being bullied? Why me?
Here I was, a talented hockey player, an important member of the team — why me? Here I was, a smart kid, a loyal friend, why me? Here I was, a nice kid who would treat any girl like a princess, why me? And for years that’s the question I struggled to answer: why me?
Having these experiences and so many others caused me to isolate myself away. I decided to just try and ignore it, to escape, so I will play video games up to 16 hours a day. I dropped out of high school twice and I retired from hockey, the game I loved more than anything else. I just want to be accepted.
I knew I had so much more potential inside but I felt paralyzed and I felt apathetic. Nobody else seemed to care about me, so why would I care about me? I was 18 with no real sense of direction.
So after two years of struggling to figure out why me, I decided I had to make a change. I had to change the way this was going. I just couldn’t do it anymore. And in a moment of inspiration, I decided to ask myself a different question: if I could change this circumstance, if I could change my situation, would I? If I could learn how to make new friends, would I? If this was actually possible, if I could actually do it, would I do it? And with every ounce of my being I knew that yes, I would.
So I made a commitment to myself: I was going to change the situation. I was going to learn to make new friends. I was going to learn to be happy again, to smile again. So I set off on a journey. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I approached it like a big experiment. I was experimenting until I learned what I needed to learn. To make friends, I needed to meet more people, so I started going out which led me to go out every single night for three years. It wasn’t a party, though, so I did it sober and I kept a journal of lessons I was learning.
I made significant progress and I felt more comfortable talking to people. But there’s still one problem. Even after going out for three years, I was still lonely. And that’s when I learned that loneliness doesn’t come from knowing a lot of people, it comes from a lack of intimate connections. Even though I knew more people, I didn’t really know anyone. Sure I can give them a high five at the night club but that was the extent of our relationship. I needed to take these connections deeper.