Have you ever been too afraid to ask someone out on a date?
Or have you been wanting to ask for a raise at your job but can’t seem to find the opportune time?
And maybe you’ve been needing help with something, but you feel uncomfortable reaching out to ask your friends or family?
All of these situations demonstrate the biggest fear that holds humans back — the fear of rejection.
A while back I saw an interview on TV with author Jia Jang talking about his book Rejection Proof. The premise of the book is that that Jang spent 30 days asking for absolutely any and everything he wanted, no matter how big or how small. The result? It pulled him out of his comfort zone and helped him get over his fear of rejection. Even better, there were many things that people said “yes” to that Jang would have never expected.
Jang originally got his idea from the website rejectiontherapy.com, which a Canadian entrepreneur originally started as a game to push people to become de-sensitized to their fear of rejection. Now Jang himself owns the website and is creating an app to accomplish the same end of helping people overcome their fear of rejection.
So for one entire month, Jang spent every day making some seemingly absurd ask of strangers. For example, his first request was just trying to get a total stranger to give him $100. This evolved into making requests like trying to get a “hamburger refill” at his favorite fast food restaurant all the way to trying to be a Starbucks greeter for a day at his local store.
Some things worked and some things didn’t, but Jang got more and more creative as he went along and became more and more surprised by the results. His most famous example is when he walked into a Krispy Kreme donut store and asked for the employee to make the Olympic rings out of donuts. He thought for sure he would get rejected right away, but instead the Krispy Kreme employee started drawing out what it would look like and which colors she would need.
Then, surprisingly, she found some food coloring and was able to create the Olympic rings even better than Jang had imagined.
Though it sounds so simple, Jang’s little experiment proves something tremendous about human nature and about what often holds us back from following our dreams — all humans are deathly afraid of rejection. Many people would be terrified to do what Jang did and ask strangers for anything, let alone for some of the outlandish requests he asked for.
And this fear of rejection isn’t just in relation to strangers, many times we’re often too afraid to even ask people we know too. A classic example is how terrified many people are of their boss, too afraid to ever ask for the raise they deserve. But we’re also too afraid to make asks of our friends, spouses, or parents for the same reason.
But why? Well, the fear of rejection runs innate in us all. In fact, psychologists have found that rejection activates the same neural pathways as physical pain. This stems from the evolutionary “need to belong” inherent to the human species. Basically, we’re hard-wired to be averse to any form of rejection. So if we don’t recognize and control this feeling, we run the risk of letting the fear of rejection dictate our outcomes in life.
Yet, as Jang discovered in his experiment, overcoming the fear of failure has amazing benefits that go beyond obtaining the request. Getting used to rejection also has the benefit of boosting confidence and self-esteem. Most importantly, overcoming the fear of rejection frees us from the stress and anxiety of living within the fear. When we stop caring what the outcome is and we know that the worst that can happen is someone might reject us, we realize that there’s nothing really to fear at all. Only by freeing ourselves from this fear can we go on to realize our full potential.
In fact, Jang points out in his TEDtalk,
“In my research I found that people who really change the world, who change the way we live and the way we think, are the people who were met with initial and often violent rejections. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or even Jesus Christ. These people did not let rejection define them. They let their own reaction after rejection define themselves. And they embraced rejection.”
And in fact Amy Morin, author of the best-selling book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, agrees with Jang and says,
“The fear of rejection often serves as the single greatest obstacle that stands between a capable individual and enormous success.”
But the good news is, there are some easy ways to overcome this fear, as Jang learned through his ask-for-anything trial. He discovered two keys to make getting over the fear of rejection a little easier.
First, instead of running from rejection, stay and ask “why”. Too often, when we get rejected, we instinctively run away, embarrassed and ashamed. Instead, Jang advises that we stick around and ask follow-up questions to find out the reason behind the rejection. In his experience, it’s surprising what people will say to explain the rejection and many times they even offer a consolation instead, such as a referral to somebody who can accept the request.
“When you get rejected in life, when you are facing the next obstacle or next failure, consider the possibilities. Don’t run. If you just embrace them, they might become your gifts as well.” — Jia Jang
Next, acknowledge the other person’s hesitation and doubt at the request. We’ve all been there: after making a request the other person hesitates, unsure what to do. In that moment, Jang says, it’s good to acknowledge their doubt and in turn gain their trust in the situation. Jang would even ask the person “Is that weird?” (Because let’s face it the ask was, in fact, weird) and this made the other person feel better about their doubt. Then, the person felt they could trust Jang and wanted to work with him to come up with a way to accept the request or create a compromise.
Jang’s experiment serves as an important reminder for all of us to not let the fear of rejection prevent us from going out on a limb and asking for something. I’ve found that Jang is right, when we actively exercise overcoming our fear of rejection, we become less sensitive to it and less afraid to make the requests. I’ve tried making some oddball requests myself and the results are always surprising. People are far more likely to accommodate strange requests than we might initially believe, but sometimes it takes confidence and persuasion to get them there.
Jang’s life work now focuses on overcoming this fear and developing the confidence and persuasion skills necessary to become a successful change leader. As he puts it,
“Rejection was my curse, was my boogeyman. It has bothered me my whole life because I was running away from it. Then I started embracing it. I turned that into the biggest gift in my life.”