What I learned from 100 days of rejection | Jia Jiang

What I learned from 100 days of rejection | Jia Jiang

When I was six years old, I received my gifts. My first grade teacher
had this brilliant idea. She wanted us to experience
receiving gifts but also learning the virtue
of complimenting 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 a wonderful idea, right? What could go wrong? (Laughter) Well, there were 40 of us to start with, and every time I heard
someone’s name called, I would give out the heartiest cheer. And then there were 20 people left, and 10 people left, and five left … and three left. And I was one of them. And the compliments stopped. Well, at that moment, I was crying. And the teacher was freaking out. She was like, “Hey, would anyone
say anything nice about these people?” (Laughter) “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.” (Laughter) Well, as I’m describing this you, you probably know
I remember this really well. (Laughter) But I don’t know who felt worse that day. Was it me or the teacher? She must have realized
that she turned a team-building event into a public roast
for three six-year-olds. And without the humor. You know, when you see
people get roasted on TV, it was funny. There was nothing funny about that day. 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 fell in love with that guy. 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.” (Laughter) I totally embraced this idea
of conquering the world — domination, right? And I didn’t make this up,
I did write that letter. And here it is — (Laughter) You don’t have to read this through — (Laughter) This is also bad handwriting,
but I did highlight some key words. You get the idea. (Laughter) So … that was another version of me: one who will conquer the world. 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? (Laughter) I thought that was the start
of my entrepreneur journey. Then, fast-forward another 14 years. I was 30. Nope, 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 is 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 six-year-old. One wanted to conquer the world — make a difference — another was afraid of rejection. And every time that six-year-old won. And this fear even persisted
after I started my own company. I mean, I started
my own company when I was 30 — if you want to be Bill Gates, you’ve got to start
sooner or later, right? When I was an entrepreneur, I was presented
with an investment opportunity, and then I was turned down. And that rejection hurt me. It hurt me so bad
that I wanted to quit right there. But then I thought, hey, would Bill Gates quit
after a simple investment rejection? Would any successful
entrepreneur quit like that? No way. And this is where it clicked for me. OK, I can build a better company. I can build a better
team or better product, but one thing for sure: I’ve got to be a better leader. I’ve got to be a better person. I cannot let that six-year-old
keep dictating my life anymore. I have to put him back in his place. So this is where I went online
and looked for help. Google was my friend. (Laughter) I searched, “How do I overcome
the fear of rejection?” I came up with a bunch
of psychology articles about where the fear
and pain are coming from. Then I came up with a bunch
of “rah-rah” inspirational articles about “Don’t take it personally,
just overcome it.” Who doesn’t know that? (Laughter) But why was I still so scared? Then I found this website by luck. It’s called rejectiontherapy.com. (Laughter) “Rejection Therapy” was this game
invented by this Canadian entrepreneur. His name is Jason Comely. And basically the idea is for 30 days
you go out and look for rejection, and every day get rejected at something, and then by the end,
you desensitize yourself from the pain. And I loved that idea. (Laughter) I said, “You know what?
I’m going to do this. And I’ll feel myself
getting rejected 100 days.” And I came up with my own rejection ideas, and I made a video blog out of it. And so here’s what I did. This is what the blog looked like. Day One … (Laughter) Borrow 100 dollars from a stranger. So this is where I went
to where I was working. I came downstairs and I saw this big guy
sitting behind a desk. He looked like a security guard. So I just approached him. And I was just walking and that was the longest
walk of my life — hair on the back
of my neck standing up, I was sweating and my heart was pounding. And I got there and said, “Hey, sir, can I borrow
100 dollars from you?” (Laughter) And he looked up, he’s like, “No.” “Why?” And I just said, “No? I’m sorry.” Then I turned around,
and I just ran. (Laughter) I felt so embarrassed. But because I filmed myself — so that night I was watching
myself getting rejected, I just saw how scared I was. I looked like this kid
in “The Sixth Sense.” I saw dead people. (Laughter) But then I saw this guy. You know, he wasn’t that menacing. He was a chubby, loveable guy, and he even asked me, “Why?” In fact, he invited me to explain myself. And I could’ve said many things. I could’ve explained,
I could’ve negotiated. I didn’t do any of that. All I did was run. I felt, wow, this is like
a microcosm of my life. Every time I felt 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.” (Laughter) It’s when I went to a burger joint, I finished lunch,
and I went to the cashier and said, “Hi, can I get a burger refill?” (Laughter) He was all confused,
like, “What’s a burger refill?” (Laughter) 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.” (Laughter) So this is where rejection happened
and I could have run, but I stayed. I said, “Well, I love your burgers, I love your joint, and if you guys do a burger refill, I will love you guys more.” (Laughter) And he said, “Well, OK,
I’ll tell my manager about it, and maybe we’ll do it,
but sorry, we can’t do this today.” Then I left. And by the way, I don’t think they’ve
ever done burger refill. (Laughter) I think they’re still there. 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. Great.” And then Day Three:
Getting Olympic Doughnuts. This is where my life
was turned upside down. I went to a Krispy Kreme. It’s a doughnut shop in mainly the Southeastern part
of the United States. I’m sure they have some here, too. And I went in, I said, “Can you make me doughnuts
that look like Olympic symbols? Basically, you interlink
five doughnuts together … ” I mean there’s no way
they could say yes, right? The doughnut maker took me so seriously. (Laughter) So she put out paper, started jotting down
the colors and the rings, and is like, “How can I make this?” And then 15 minutes later, she came out with a box
that looked like Olympic rings. And I was so touched. I just couldn’t believe it. And that video got
over five million views on Youtube. The world couldn’t believe that either. (Laughter) You know, because of that
I was in newspapers, in talk shows, in everything. And I became famous. A lot of people
started writing emails to me and saying, “What you’re
doing is awesome.” But you know, fame and notoriety
did not do anything to me. What I really wanted to do was learn, and to change myself. So I turned the rest
of my 100 days of rejection into this playground — into this research project. I wanted to see what I could learn. And then I learned a lot of things. I discovered so many secrets. For example, I found if I just don’t run, if I got rejected, I could actually turn a “no” into a “yes,” and the magic word is, “why.” So one day I went to a stranger’s house,
I had this flower in my hand, knocked on the door and said, “Hey, can I plant this flower
in your backyard?” (Laughter) And he said, “No.” But before he could leave I said, “Hey, can I know why?” And he said, “Well, I have this dog that would dig up
anything I put in the backyard. I don’t want to waste your flower. If you want to do this,
go across the street and talk to Connie. She loves flowers.” So that’s what I did. I went across and knocked
on Connie’s door. And she was so happy to see me. (Laughter) And then half an hour later, there was this flower
in Connie’s backyard. I’m sure it looks better now. (Laughter) But had I left
after the initial rejection, I would’ve thought, well, it’s because
the guy didn’t trust me, it’s because I was crazy, because I didn’t dress up well,
I didn’t look good. It was none of those. It was because what I offered
did not fit what he wanted. And he trusted me enough
to offer me a referral, using a sales term. I converted a referral. Then one day — and I also learned that I can
actually say certain things and maximize my chance to get a yes. So for example,
one day I went to a Starbucks, and asked the manager,
“Hey, can I be a Starbucks greeter?” He was like, “What’s a Starbucks greeter?” I said, “Do you know
those Walmart greeters? You know, those people who say
‘hi’ to you before you walk in the store, and make sure you
don’t steal stuff, basically? I want to give a Walmart experience
to Starbucks customers.” (Laughter) Well, I’m not sure
that’s a good thing, actually — Actually, I’m pretty sure
it’s a bad thing. And he was like, “Oh” — yeah, this is how he looked,
his name is Eric — and he was like, “I’m not sure.” This is how he was hearing me. “Not sure.” Then I ask him, “Is that weird?” He’s like, “Yeah, it’s really weird, man.” But as soon as he said that,
his whole demeanor changed. It’s as if he’s putting
all the doubt on the floor. And he said, “Yeah, you can do this, just don’t get too weird.” (Laughter) So for the next hour
I was the Starbucks greeter. I said “hi” to every customer
that walked in, and gave them holiday cheers. By the way, I don’t know
what your career trajectory is, don’t be a greeter. (Laughter) It was really boring. But then I found I could do this
because I mentioned, “Is that weird?” I mentioned the doubt that he was having. And because I mentioned, “Is that weird?”,
that means I wasn’t weird. That means I was actually
thinking just like him, seeing this as a weird thing. And again, and again, I learned that if I mention
some doubt people might have before I ask the question, I gained their trust. People were more likely to say yes to me. And then I learned
I could fulfill my life dream … by asking. You know, I came
from four generations of teachers, and my grandma has always told me, “Hey Jia, you can do anything you want, but it’d be great
if you became a teacher.” (Laughter) But I wanted to be
an entrepreneur, so I didn’t. But it has always been my dream
to actually teach something. So I said, “What if I just ask and teach a college class?” I lived in Austin at the time, so I went to University
of Texas at Austin and knocked on professors’ doors
and said, “Can I teach your class?” I didn’t get anywhere
the first couple of times. But because I didn’t run —
I kept doing it — and on the third try
the professor was very impressed. He was like, “No one
has done this before.” And I came in prepared
with powerpoints and my lesson. He said, “Wow, I can use this. Why don’t you come back in two months?
I’ll fit you in my curriculum.” And two months later
I was teaching a class. This is me — you probably can’t see,
this is a bad picture. You know, sometimes you get
rejected by lighting, you know? (Laughter) But wow — when I finished teaching that class,
I walked out crying, because I thought I could fulfill my life dream
just by simply asking. I used to think I have to accomplish
all these things — have to be a great entrepreneur,
or get a PhD to teach — but no, I just asked, and I could teach. And in that picture,
which you can’t see, I quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. Why? Because 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 we don’t have to be those people
to learn about rejection, and in my case, 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. I started teaching people
how to turn rejections into opportunities. I use my blog, I use my talk, I use the book I just published, and I’m even building technology to help
people overcome their fear of rejection. 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. Thank you. (Applause)


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