"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." ~Aristotle
I think about this quote whenever I step into a situation that will force me to expand my comfort zone. It reminds me that playing it safe isn't really living. Rather, it's existing.
The same goes for rejection. We've all been stung by the sound of NO. We've all allowed ourselves to be temporarily defined by another person's decision to reject us, even when it's not personal.
How can we not only move beyond the pain of rejection, but also embrace the gifts that rejection provides us?
Author and entrepreneur Jia Jiang decided to face his life-long fear of rejection, which originated from a classroom event when he was 6 years old, because he knew his fear was holding him back from living the fullest life possible.
In a recent TED Talk, he shared why he finally created the courage to face his fear, and how this journey opened up more opportunities than he could have ever imagined. Jiang committed to 100 days of straight rejection to desensitize himself to the pain that "no" can cause.
His requests (which almost always generated an emphatic "no") ranged from requesting a "burger refill" at a restaurant to requesting to plant flowers in a stranger's back yard.
Along the way, he was surprised to have received a few yes's too. Krispy Kreme donuts agreed to make him a donut in the shape of the Olympic symbol, and his local Starbucks agreed to let him be a "greeter" - a position he created to greet customers as they entered the store.
Here are Jiang's most important lessons he learned from being rejected 100 days in a row.
- We can often turn a "No" into a "Yes."
Jiang discovered that often people say No because they don't have enough information, or because they feel at risk if they say Yes. The best way to change a No to a Yes is often with the question "Why."
When we ask "why," we give the person an opportunity to share what it is about our ask that is making them uncomfortable.
I experienced this with a long-time customer who initially said No to working together. I knew he wanted to work with me, and needed to work with me, but something was holding him back. Through patience, and by giving him an opportunity to share his objections, I was able to diffuse his hesitation, and replace the fear with trust and confidence.
No is often used as a protective measure when someone doesn't have all of the information they need to move forward.
- Empathy is a great tool to break down barriers.
When Jiang initially asked Starbucks to be a "greeter," he was met with surprise and skepticism. As soon as he noticed this, he put himself in the shoes of the manager and said, "Is that weird?" Immediately, the manager could relate to him. He knew they were on the same page. "Yeah, it's weird," he said.
However, in that moment, the manager learned that Jiang was not there to do any harm. He gained his trust.
- Persistence often turns a No into a Yes.
Jiang has always wanted to teach. However, he convinced himself that he would never be able to teach because he wasn't a certified teacher, and he had no experience teaching.
He mustered the courage to approach a professor at the University of Texas, and was rejected multiple times. However he stayed persistent, and eventually the professor gave him a slot in the class.
Jiang learned that he could fulfill a life dream simply by asking.
- Rejection never defines you. Your reaction following rejection defines you.
Throughout his experiment to desensitize himself to the pain of rejection, Jiang learned that that it was not the experience of rejection that was causing him pain. Rather, it was the way he personalized it and internalized it.
Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Ghandi all had the ability to see the higher purpose and bigger picture beyond the rejection they experienced. They did not let non-believers diminish their own beliefs or goals.
- We can use rejection to fuel our determination to succeed.
Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. His own Board terminated him. This motivated him even more to build a better company beyond Apple, and then eventually go back into Apple and reclaim it. Rejection can be one of our greatest gifts if we are open to learning from it.
How is your fear of rejection holding you back? Do you want to play it safe, or do you want to open yourself up to possibility? These two outcomes can not co-exist.