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?