Learning from Rejection

Last week, I attended the 2018 NALP Annual Education conference and one of the best talks I got the chance to see was the opening plenary given by Jia Jiang: What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection.

Jia Jiang, author of the book Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection, spoke to us about his rejection project where he sought 100 days of rejection to make experiencing rejection less painful. He made a list of 100 activities that were bound to get him rejected, completed them, and took a video of every attempt.

The job search is filled with rejection, no matter who you are, so I think Jia’s lessons are particularly applicable to law students. I found Jia’s story at the conference to be very compelling so I am going to walk you through the story he told, his fear of rejection, how he ended up committing to facing rejection head on, lessons he learned about rejection along the way, and how law students can apply these lessons to their lives.

Here’s the list of the 100 rejection challenges Jia completed with links to Jia’s blog and the videos.

Facing rejection as a kid

As a six year old, Jia’s teacher wanted his class to learn the virtue of complimenting people all of the time so she called each student up to the front of the class and had all of the other students compliment them. The compliments stopped when three students were left and none of the other students had anything nice to say to them. Jia was one of the three students and was shocked because he didn’t like the other two students and couldn’t believe he was roped in with them. He didn’t know why people wouldn’t say nice things about him.

Ever since that day, Jia said he would rather die than be in that situation, getting rejected in public. The teacher realized her team unity event turned into a roast of three six year olds.

Dreaming about starting a company

At age 14, Bill Gates game to Beijing, where Jia lived, to promote Windows 95 and Jia heard him speak. Jia loved his entrepreneurial story, using technology to change the world. Jia was so motivated by that experience, he committed to starting a business.

At age 30, he had gone to school, found a job, made money, and gotten married. He had fulfilled everything in the American dream but he hadn’t started a company. He asked himself, “where is the 14 year old kid who was trying to change the world?” He felt stagnant at work. He hadn’t pursued his dreams of starting a business What happened?

Every time Jia had a new idea, there was a constant battle  between the six year old and the 14 year old. Every time, the six year old who was afraid of rejection won. At age 30, he got the news that his wife was having a baby. He knew his priorities would change and now the chance for him to change the world was low.

Quitting his job to pursue his dreams

But Jia’s wife saw how unhappy he was and she reminded him that all he used to talk about were his business ideas. She told him to go out and do it. Be entrepreneurial. Try for six months and set goals. If you don’t reach them, you can look for a job again, she told him. So he quit his job 4 days before his son was born.

Jia said of quitting his job that part of him felt great when he left that mammoth office building but the other part of him was terrified. Before, he had all kinds of excuses for not going after his dreams but now there were no more excuses. Jia said, “I was the only person standing between myself and success.”

In a few weeks, he found a team of engineers. He started finding customers and looking for investments. Four months in, there was a local investor who showed interest in his company. He thought there’s no way he wouldn’t get that investment and was dreaming about it.

Rejection in business

Then, all of a sudden, he got an email that the investor wasn’t going to invest in him. He was at a birthday party and had to stand and walk out so people wouldn’t see him cry in front of them. He felt like the six year old version of himself was there.

He dejectedly talked to his wife and said he should get a job and get some income coming in. His wife was enraged. She said “I gave you six months; not four. You have two months left. Keep going.”

He asked himself if Bill Gates or anyone successful at anything would give up after one rejection like that.

Face rejection head on!

He decided he had to solve his crippling fear of rejection and put the six year old back in his place. He searched google for how to overcome fear of rejection. Then, he found rejectiontherapy.com. It’s a game invented by Canadian entrepreneurs involving a deck of 30 cards. The idea is that if you look for rejection for 30 days, you desensitize yourself to the pain of rejection. He decided to go even bigger and do it for 100 days. The plan was to overdose on rejection. Rather than relying on the deck of 30 cards, Jia decided to use his own creativity and come up with his own unique ways to get rejected. So he came up with 100 unique requests that were bound to lead to rejection and filmed himself getting rejected repeatedly with his iPhone.

Rejection Request # 1: Borrow $100 from a stranger

Jia was working in downtown Austin, he came down to the lobby of his office building, and he saw a guy sitting behind the desk in the lobby. He was going to try and ask him if he could borrow $100. As Jia got closer to him, he slowed down and his heart started to pound. He was sweating. He was a total mess by the time he got there. He asked to borrow $100 and the guy said “no,” and he turned around and ran as fast as he could.

Jia realized when uploading the video of his attempt to borrow $100 that he would have to experience everything twice with his video blog. He had to actually live it and then he had to edit it and upload it. He saw himself in the video and how he was so scared. He noted while watching the video that the guy who told him “no” had asked him why he wanted to borrow $100 and Jia could have explained himself. But he didn’t even bother. He just left.

Jia told himself that tomorrow, with attempt #2, no matter what, he wasn’t going to run.

Rejection Request # 2: Request a burger refill

Jia finished a cheeseburger for lunch and asked the cashier for a burger refill. The cashier was confused. Jia explained that he wanted a free drink refill but with a burger instead. The cashier said, “sorry we don’t do burger refills.” This time, Jia stayed engaged and negotiated. Jia told him “if you give it to me, I’ll tell everyone about how great this restaurant is and it will be great free marketing.” The cashier said he wasn’t allowed to give away free food. So Jia got rejected but now, he wasn’t scared anymore.

Jia learned only two days in, that if after rejection, he didn’t run and remain engaged, he didn’t have to feel too bad. People started eventually saying yes to him.

Rejection Request # 6: Play soccer in someone’s backyard

In a later rejection challenge, Jia walked up to a stranger’s front door with a soccer ball and asked the guy if he could play soccer in his backyard. Jia was serious; he was fully decked out in soccer gear. The stranger said, “I guess so.” So Jia went back there and tossed the ball around with his foot. Afterwards, Jia asked the stranger how he could possibly say “yes,” and he responded that the request “was so off the wall, how could I say no?”

Other notable Rejection Requests: Drive a police car, fly a plane, and get donuts from Krispy Kreme custom made in the shape of the olympic rings

For another rejection challenge, Jia saw a police car on the highway, pulled over, and asked if he could drive the car. The police officer said, “why not.” Jia drove a police car that day.

Next, Jia went to an airfield in Austin and saw a pilot in the lobby. Jia asked him if he could fly his plane. The pilot asked if him he knew how to fly a plane and Jia said no. The pilot responded “No problem. I’ll teach you now.” The pilot was excited to teach Jia how to fly a plane because he had a new gyro plane and he wanted to show everyone how cool his new plane was. Jia flew a plane that.

Next, Jia went to Krispy Kreme and asked if they could custom make him olympic donuts that look like the olympic rings. They honored his request and gave him the donuts for free!

The Krispy Kreme video went to the front page of yahoo and reddit and got over 5 million views on you tube. From that, Jia got a lot of emails to his blog. People started talking more about what he was doing and the benefits of looking for rejection. As it turned out, everyone was afraid of rejection and were living their fears through his eyes.

Many people who saw the video shared that they were now inspired to overcome their own fear of rejection. An artist who was always afraid of sharing her art with the world saw the video, shared her art, and became very famous.

Another guy who had been recently divorced did his own 100 days of rejection video. Within six months,  he doubled his business and found the love of his life.

Why rejection isn’t a big deal

By going through 100 days of rejection, Jia learned what rejection really is at its core. It’s a numbers game. If you want to get a yes, just talk to enough people. Go through enough nos and it eventually becomes a yes.

Jia referenced Harry Potter. With how incredibly popular that book is, you would think every publisher would have been fighting each other to publish it but JK Rowling suffered 12 rejections before getting it published. On the 13th try, the publisher gave the manuscript to his granddaughter who couldn’t stop reading it and it finally got published.

Rejection is an opinion, Jia realized. Everyone has something to say about something. “Opinions are like the cheapest resource on earth,” he explained Rejection is just the opinion of the rejector. It says more about them than about you. When it comes to rejection, we think it’s all about us. But it isn’t.

Rejection is also a source of knowledge. Jia published a book called “Rejection Proof” a few years ago. It was a #1 best seller. In those hundred days of rejection, Jia says he learned more about business than he did while he was in business school. He put himself in front of real people and got real rejections.

If you’re rejected, ask why

When we get rejected, our tendency is to fight or flight, as Jia did in rejection challenge #1 when he was trying to borrow $100. Flight is bad because you just give up and you don’t turn minds when you fight because ego and emotions get involved. The third response to rejection is to ask “why.” The word “why” is a magic word. A lot of times when people reject you, it’s not because they hate you. There’s a reason.

For example, for one of his rejection challenges, Jia asked a guy if he could plant a flower in his backyard. The man said “no” and Jia asked why not. He said he had a dog who would dig anything up that was planted but encouraged Jia to go talk to his neighbor. Jia did just that and the neighbor was so happy to have a flower planted. Had Jia just left and not asked “why,” Jia could have thought it was all about him but the truth is that what Jia had to offer did not fit guy #1’s needs.

Jia also told the story of going to a hotel in Austin and asking for a free night. The woman at the desk responded, “I’m sorry… we don’t do that now.” So instead, Jia asked to have a nap and the woman let him take a nap in one of the suites. An important lesson Jia learned from this experience is that when people say “no,” they feel a little bad so you can ask for something less than what you initially asked for and they will often give it you. People are usually nice and like to return in kind.

Just ask!!!

We avoid even asking for things most of the time because we think rejection is so terrible. When you’re not getting out there and getting rejected, you’re pretty much rejecting yourself. Don’t reject yourself. Let the world reject you.

Once Jia started embracing rejection, his life advanced. Now, he gets to train the biggest companies and universities on how to be rejection proof. Jia wants to see a world where we’re not scared of rejection anymore.

When you get rejected, Jia warns, don’t compound it with a bad attitude.

What law students can learn from rejection

Jia’s lessons are easily applicable to law students looking to advance their careers. The job search process is necessarily filled with rejection. Even students with perfect GPAs and law review on their resumes are likely to get at least one rejection. I see it with networking too. If you’re emailing alumni to set up networking emails for the summer and you don’t hear from five people, there may be an impulse to give up and think the process doesn’t work.

Learn from Jia and blow past that. If you get rejected by an employer or don’t hear back after sending requests for networking meetings, keep trying! Keep applying for jobs and keep sending outreach emails! I have worked with students who applied for over one hundred jobs before landing their internship.

Learning to deal with rejection is one of the most important lessons we learn in life because all of us deal with it on some level. Give yourself the gift of facing rejection and seeing how it isn’t a big deal. You don’t have to embark upon a  one hundred day challenge and ask a police officer to drive his car but do go to an event, send an outreach email, or apply to a job that you’re scared will result in some kind of rejection. You will be better for it.


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