I came across this story on NPR, which discusses a young man, Jason Comely. Jason didn’t go out that much. Nine months before, his wife had left him for someone else. From this experience, Jason withdrew from life and didn’t talk much, especially to women. He broke down one night and realized he was afraid of being rejected. He had an idea. As he puts it, “I had to get rejected at least once every single day by someone.”
He started in the parking lot of his local grocery store. Went up to a total stranger and asked for a ride across town.
“And he looked at me, like, and just said, ‘I’m not going that way, buddy.’ And I was like, ‘Thank you!’
“It was like, ‘Got it! I got my rejection.’ ”
Jason had totally inverted the rules of life. He took rejection and made it something he wanted — so he would feel good when he got it.
“And it was sort of like walking on my hands or living on my hands or living underwater or something. It was just a different reality. The rules of life had changed.”
Psychologists call this exposure therapy: you force yourself to confront what you’re afraid of, and over time, the fear doesn’t control you.
Jason kept on seeking out rejection. And as he did, he found that people were actually more receptive to him, and he was more receptive to people, too. “I was able to approach people, because what are you gonna do, reject me? Great!”
That was when Jason got another idea.
He wrote down all of his real-life rejection attempts, things like, “Ask for a ride from stranger, even if you don’t need one.” “Before purchasing something, ask for a discount.” “Ask a stranger for a breath mint.”
Eventually, he made a deck of cards. You pick up a card and that was your task for the day. The point is to get rejected. Some of the cards suggest to play rock, paper, scissors with a stranger. Another card is to request a lower interest rate from a credit card provider. And another card asks to sit next to a stranger and strike up a conversation. Over time, this became “Rejection Therapy.”
Now then point of this is to overcome your fear of being rejected. But I think it’s more than that. Yes, by doing this you get over your fears, which helps you develop the virtue of courage. But I also think that this helps you develop the skill (perhaps even virtue?) of being rejected. Take a look at these three scenarios:
- Imagine someone who just went out and constantly flirted with people and constantly got rejected.
- Or imagine an author writing a story but gets rejected by major publishers.
- Or imagine a board member pitching an idea to the rest of the board members but gets rejected.
Now suppose in these three scenarios, the individuals get rejected, but they still try and pursue their goal. However, they may look at the rejection with resentment. Perhaps they have this “it’s not me, it’s them” mentality. Sure, these people are not afraid of confronting people, or perhaps afraid of being rejected, but they still haven’t developed the virtue of being rejected.
“But Shaun,” you might say, “being rejected sucks. Why would you want to have that as a virtue or even as a skill?” True, being rejected is no fun. Nevertheless, it may be fruitful.
In the interview, Jason slowly becomes more at ease being around other people. By being rejected, you began to learn that not having your goals met isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it may make you be more proactive in what you’re doing. In those three scenarios above, perhaps it could change your approach and make you think, “Huh? I’m constantly being rejected. Maybe I should change something about what I’m doing.” Of course, maybe your approach is fine, but if you’re constantly being rejected and you have no fear of being rejected, maybe asking yourself about your approach is the next step. At any rate, building up the virtue of being rejected can help you overcome your fears, but it may also help one look inwardly and consider whether what one is doing is indeed good. Admittedly, I think being rejected helps overcome the fear: it takes the sting away whenever you’re rejected “for reals.” Perhaps overcoming fear is the first step. But go further. Rather than passively take the rejection (once the fear is overcome), actively use that rejection and consider how and why that rejection plays a role in life to improve yourself. Yes, being rejected isn’t great, but it can give you an opportunity to improve yourself, either in terms of overcoming your fears and overcoming your shortcomings.