Jia Jiang, author of Rejection Proof, presents What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection at TED Talk Conference (Transcript)
Jia Jiang, author of Rejection Proof
When I was six years old, I received my gifts. My first grade teacher had this brilliant idea. She wanted us to experience receiving gifts but also learning the virtue of complimenting each other. So she had all of us come to the front of the classroom, and she bought all of us gifts and stacked them in the corner. And she said, “Why don’t we just stand here and compliment each other? If you hear your name called, go and pick up your gift and sit down.” What a wonderful idea, right? What could go wrong?
Well, there were 40 of us to start with, and every time I heard someone’s name called, I would give out the heartiest cheer. And then there were 20 people left, and 10 people left, and five left, and three left. And I was one of them. And the compliments stopped. Well, at that moment, I was crying. And the teacher was freaking out. She was like, “Hey, would anyone say anything nice about these people?….No one? OK, why don’t you go get your gift and sit down. So behave next year — someone might say something nice about you.”
Well, as I’m describing this you, you probably know I remember this really well. But I don’t know who felt worse that day. Was it me or the teacher? She must have realized that she turned a team-building event into a public roast for three six-year-olds. And without the humor, you know, when you see people get roasted on TV, it was funny. There was nothing funny about that day.
So that was one version of me, and I would die to avoid being in that situation again — to get rejected in public again. That’s one version.
Then fast-forward eight years. Bill Gates came to my hometown, Beijing, China to speak, and I saw his message. I fell in love with that guy. I thought, wow, I know what I want to do now. That night I wrote a letter to my family telling them: “By age 25, I will build the biggest company in the world, and that company will buy Microsoft.” I totally embraced this idea of conquering the world — domination, right? And I didn’t make this up, I did write that letter. And here it is — you don’t have to read this through — this is also bad handwriting, but I did highlight some keywords. You get the idea. So that was another version of me: one who will conquer the world.
Well, then two years later, I was presented with the opportunity to come to the United States. I jumped on it, and because that was where Bill Gates lived, right? I thought that was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.
Then, fast-forward another 14 years. I was 30. Nope, I didn’t build that company. I didn’t even start. I was actually a marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company. And I felt I was stuck; I was stagnant. Why is that? Where is that 14-year-old who wrote that letter? It’s not because he didn’t try. It’s because every time I had a new idea, every time I wanted to try something new, even at work — I wanted to make a proposal, I wanted to speak up in front of people in a group — I felt there was this constant battle between the 14-year-old and the six-year-old. One wanted to conquer the world, make a difference, another was afraid of rejection. And every time that six-year-old won.
And this fear even persisted after I started my own company. I mean, I started my own company when I was 30 — if you want to be Bill Gates, you’ve got to start sooner or later, right? When I was an entrepreneur, I was presented with an investment opportunity, and then I was turned down. And that rejection hurt me. It hurt me so bad that I wanted to quit right there. But then I thought, hey, would Bill Gates quit after a simple investment rejection? Would any successful entrepreneur quit like that? No way. And this is where it clicked for me. OK, I can build a better company. I can build a better team or better product, but one thing for sure: I’ve got to be a better leader. I’ve got to be a better person. I cannot let that six-year-old keep dictating my life anymore. I have to put him back in his place. So this is where I went online and looked for help. Google was my friend.
I searched, “How do I overcome the fear of rejection?” I came up with a bunch of psychology articles about where the fear and pain are coming from. And then I came up with a bunch of ‘rah-rah’ inspirational articles about “Don’t take it personally, just overcome it.” Who doesn’t know that?
But why was I still so scared? Then I found this website by luck. It’s called rejectiontherapy.com. ‘Rejection Therapy’ was this game invented by this Canadian entrepreneur. His name is Jason Comely. And basically the idea is for 30 days you go out and look for rejection, and every day get rejected at something, and then by the end, you desensitize yourself from the pain. And I loved that idea.
I said, “You know what? I’m going to do this. And I’ll feel myself getting rejected 100 days.” And I came up with my own rejection ideas, and I made a video blog out of it. And so here’s what I did. This is what the blog looked like.
Day One: Borrow 100 dollars from a stranger. So this is where I went to where I was working. I came downstairs and I saw this big guy sitting behind a desk. He looked like a security guard. So I just approached him. And I was just walking and that was the longest walk of my life — hair on the back of my neck standing up, I was sweating and my heart was pounding. And I got there and said, “Hey, sir, can I borrow 100 dollars from you?”
And he looked up, he’s like, “No. Why?”
And I just said, “No? I’m sorry.” Then I turned around, and I just ran. I felt so embarrassed. But because I filmed myself — so that night I was watching myself getting rejected, I just saw how scared I was. I looked like this kid in ‘The Sixth Sense.’ I saw dead people.
But then I saw this guy. You know, he wasn’t that menacing. He was a chubby, loveable guy, and he even asked me, “Why?” In fact, he invited me to explain myself. And I could’ve said many things. I could’ve explained, I could’ve negotiated. I didn’t do any of that. All I did was run. I felt, wow, this is like a microcosm of my life. Every time I felt the slightest rejection, I would just run as fast as I could. And you know what? The next day, no matter what happens, I’m not going to run. I’ll stay engaged.
Day Two: Request a ‘burger refill.’ It’s when I went to a burger joint, I finished lunch, and I went to the cashier and said, “Hi, can I get a burger refill?”
He was all confused, like, “What’s a burger refill?”
I said, “Well, it’s just like a drink refill but with a burger.”
And he said, “Sorry, we don’t do burger refill, man.”
So this is where rejection happened and I could have run, but I stayed. I said, “Well, I love your burgers, I love your joint, and if you guys do a burger refill, I will love you guys more.”
And he said, “Well, OK, I’ll tell my manager about it, and maybe we’ll do it, but sorry, we can’t do this today.” Then I left. And by the way, I don’t think they’ve ever done burger refill. I think they’re still there. But the life and death feeling I was feeling the first time was no longer there, just because I stayed engaged — because I didn’t run. I said, “Wow, great, I’m already learning things. Great.”