Jia Jiang: Can You Train Yourself To Accept Rejection?

Jun 16, 2017
Originally published on June 16, 2017 12:34 pm

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode A Better You.

About Jia Jiang's TED Talk

For 100 days, Jia Jiang did a bunch of random things - asking a stranger for $100, requesting a burger refill at a restaurant, asking for a haircut at PetSmart - all to conquer his fear of rejection.

About Jia Jiang

Jia Jiang runs the website Rejection Therapy, which provides inspiration, knowledge and products for people to overcome their fear of rejection. He is also the CEO of Wuju Learning, a company that teaches people and trains organizations to become fearless through rejection training.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So I want you to think back to the last time you were rejected. Maybe your boss shot down one of your ideas. Maybe you asked somebody out and it didn't go over too well. Whatever it was, rejection is not fun. And I think it's safe to say most people try to avoid it or at least most people don't seek out rejection, unless you're this guy.

JIA JIANG: My name is Jia Jiang, and people call me the rejection guy.

RAZ: Jia actually goes out looking for rejection all the time on purpose. By the way, have you been rejected today at all?

JIANG: No, I haven't been...

RAZ: You've not experienced rejection today?

JIANG: No. I feel bad about it now. But I do it probably, like, 2 to 3 times a week just to keep myself sharp.

RAZ: And the thing is, for most of his life, Jia was terrified of rejection.

JIANG: Yes, absolutely. I was so afraid of rejection. Just looking back, I felt this is one of my biggest problems in my life.

RAZ: So he decided to do something about this problem. And Jia thought by fixing it, he could become a better version of himself.

JIANG: So I googled how do I overcome my fear of rejection? And I found this one website called rejectiontherapy.com that would ask you to get rejected every day. You'd desensitize yourself from that pain of rejection. And I just loved that idea.

RAZ: So back in 2012, Jia decided to try this rejection therapy. And he filmed it.


JIANG: Hello, everyone. This is Jia.

RAZ: And he put the videos on YouTube.


JIANG: This is my day 10 of rejection therapy just to conquer fear.

RAZ: Every day for 100 days, he made various requests of strangers.


JIANG: I'm going to ask someone to open up their backyard and for me to play soccer in it.

RAZ: Requests where he figured...


JIANG: I'm going to walk into a local business and ask to do a staring contest with the CEO.

RAZ: ...People would always say no.


JIANG: All right, quick and easy, I want to get my hair trimmed at PetSmart today.

Hey, any chance I can plant this flower in your yard?

Today, I'm flying. I'm going to ask them to allow me to do the public safety announcement before the flight takes off. Hopefully I don't get arrested.

RAZ: A hundred days of rejection.

JIANG: A hundred days of rejection. That's what I did. You kind of become, like, a master of rejection.


JIANG: Let's see what kind of tough guy I become.

RAZ: Today on the show, A Better You, ideas about changing the things about us we kind of want to change, conquering a fear or changing a habit or trying something new, becoming the kind of person you want to be. And for Jia Jiang, becoming a better version of himself meant conquering his fear of rejection. And that fear, it came from something that happened way back in his childhood. He told the story from the TED stage.


JIANG: When I was 6 years old, my first grade teacher had this brilliant idea. She wanted us to experience receiving gifts but also learning the virtue of complementing 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 could go wrong?


JIANG: Well, there were 40 of us to start with. And every time when I hear someone's name called, I would give out the heartiest cheer. And then there were 20 people left and 10 people left, five left and three left. I was one of them. And the compliments stopped. And the teacher was freaking out. And 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.


JIANG: Well, as I'm describing this to you, you probably know I remember this really well.


JIANG: 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 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.


RAZ: Do you remember what you wrote in that letter?

JIANG: Yeah, I do. So in the letter, I said, by age 35, I will become the biggest entrepreneur in the world. And also, I talked about I'm going to go to the United States someday to be this entrepreneur, to fulfill that dream. I even chose a city for myself to live in. I chose - I want to move to Houston. You know, I really have no idea why I chose Houston.

It's - the name sounded good to me - you know, Houston. But also probably because they won the NBA championship that year, you know, the Houston Rockets. And I kind of liked them. So that was in the letter.


JIANG: Well, then two years later, I was presented with the opportunity to come to the United States. I jumped on it because that was where Bill Gates lived, right?


JIANG: So I thought that was the start of my entrepreneur journey. Then fast forward another 14 years. I was 30. No, 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's 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 6-year-old. One wanted to conquer the world, make a difference. Another was afraid of rejection. And every time, that 6-year-old won.

RAZ: Tell me what was going on in your life when you decided I need to deal with this problem that I have.

JIANG: So it was - I just turned 30 at the time. And I heard the news that we're going to have a baby, right? But then my wife was like, you know, hey, when I first met you - right? - all you talked about is your great ideas, that you want to do all this. I want to have that guy back. If you really want to be this entrepreneur, you just - if you don't do it now, you're going to have a lot of regret.

Looking back, you're going to start blaming your kids, your family for not achieving your dreams, right? So I ended up quitting my job four days before my first child was born.

RAZ: Wow.

JIANG: That didn't go over too well with my in-laws, by the way so (laughter)...

RAZ: I bet, yeah.


JIANG: Yeah. No, they were not happy at all. But I stepped out and start building my company. Then I was looking for investment. But what ended up happening is four months into my venture, I was rejected with this investment. And it really, really hurt me. It was, like, all those feelings...

RAZ: Yeah.

JIANG: It was like a 6-year-old was standing on my shoulder again just telling me, who do you think you are?

RAZ: Yeah.

JIANG: You know, and this - so that's where I have to make a stand.

RAZ: And that's when you discovered this idea of rejection therapy? Like, you thought, that's it, this is what I need to do?

JIANG: Yeah. There are two parts of this. One is I want to solve this rejection problem. You know, this is something that's going to help me, and I'm willing to try it. But also, the other part of it's, like, let me do something that I've been - I would not dare to do in my life. I don't know where this business is going to go. But if I come out as a stronger person, that's not a bad outcome.


JIANG: So here's what I did. Day one - borrow $100 from a stranger.


JIANG: I came downstairs and I saw this big guy sitting behind a desk. You know, he looked like a security guard. So I just approached him. I just - hair on the back of my neck standing up. I was sweating. My heart was pounding. And I got there and said, hey, sir, can I borrow $100 from you?


JIANG: And he looked up. He's like, no...


JIANG: ...Why? And I just - I said, no? I'm sorry. Then I turned around and just ran.


JIANG: I felt so embarrassed. But because I filmed myself, that night, I was watching myself getting rejected. I just saw how scared I was. I looked like this kid in "Sixth Sense." I saw dead people.


JIANG: But then I saw this guy. He wasn't that menacing. He was a chubby, lovable guy, you know? And he even asked me, why? In fact, he invited me to explain myself. I could have said many things. I could have explained. I could have negotiated. All I did was run. I felt, wow, this is like a microcosm of my life. Every time I feel 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.


JIANG: This is where I finished - went to a burger joint, I finished lunch and I went to the cashier and said, hi, can I get a burger refill?


JIANG: And he was all confused. He's 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.


JIANG: So this is where rejection happened. I could have run, but I stayed. I said, well, I love your burger, love your joint. And if you guys do a burger refill, I will love you guys more.


JIANG: And he said, well, OK. I'll tell my manager about it. Maybe we'll do it. But, sorry, we can't do this today. Then I left. 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.

RAZ: So you did this for 98 more days, right? You got rejected or you tried to get rejected every day. You recorded this.

JIANG: Yes, I did. I did.

RAZ: And what happened to your fear of rejection?

JIANG: The funny thing is I don't think you can ever get rid of that fear. But I started developing a very healthy relationship with rejection, you know, meaning I built up this whole experience of, oh, if you go get rejection, that's - you're OK, right? And that is always there. No one can take that away from me. So when I go into any real negotiation or any real life experiences where I will possibly be rejected, you know, I immediately know what to do when rejection happens.

I can know how to negotiate. I know how to have fun. I know how to keep it light-hearted. I know not to take it personally. So I built up this whole mindset that I can use almost as a special tool. It became my friend. I can say rejection is my friend now.

RAZ: And it seems like a big part of this, this whole experiment, was kind of trying to make yourself into a better version of yourself.

JIANG: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I still do that constantly. There's an old Chinese proverb that talked about, hey, if God or heaven gives you a big task or mission - right? - he's going to run you through the ringers. He's going to have to put you through all kinds of difficulties. If you overcome them, then you're ready. I kind of used that as some sort of inspiration for me.

RAZ: Jia Jiang, he wrote a book about his project. It's called "Rejection Proof." And by the way, incredibly, out of his hundred requests, he actually got 51 people to say yes. You can see his entire talk at ted.com. Our show today, ideas about becoming a better you. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.