My chest feels tight, my stomach is churning, every fibre of my being wants to run away.
Instead, I’m about to walk up to a man I’ve never met and ask him if I can borrow £100.
No, the cost-of-living crisis hasn’t hit me hard. Well, not yet, anyway. I’m actually trying to get rejected. Every day for a month, I’ve gone out of my way to get turned down for all kinds of requests.
I’m doing a crash course in Rejection Therapy, to see if exposing myself to constant ‘nos’ can conquer my fear of getting turned down. We have all experienced the punch in the gut that is a rejection.
Whether it’s relatively minor, a friend passing up our dinner invitation, or something more consequential such as getting passed over for a promotion, nobody loves hearing ‘thanks but no thanks’.
I’m doing a crash course in Rejection Therapy, to see if exposing myself to constant ‘nos’ can conquer my fear of getting turned down
But I really dread it. So much so that I rarely put myself out there. I have only ever applied for one job, for which I was massively overqualified. I normally just wait to be headhunted.
Among my friends, I used to be notorious for ‘down dating’, or picking men who were several leagues beneath me. One chap was 14 years older than me, another would rather play video games all night than go out, and a third, let’s just say, ‘had a good personality’.
I knew I’d always dump them and they’d never dump me.
I blame my mother. It was her departure when I was 15 to live in another city with her new boyfriend, 22 years ago now, that cemented my belief that not being wanted is too painful to bear. I went to live with my dad, and tried to maintain a relationship with my mother — but we haven’t spoken in years.
Although lots of therapy has helped me to unravel that formative experience of being cast aside, I can’t quite shake my rejection-phobia, and it’s still affecting my life in trivial and not-so-trivial ways. For example, I walked around Marrakesh, lost for hours, because I couldn’t pluck up the courage to bother anyone for directions.
I rarely celebrate my birthday because I don’t want people to say they can’t come. When I found myself single a few years ago, I struggled with dating apps because someone swiping left or not replying to one of my messages would send me into a spiral of depression.
In all other aspects of my life I’m a confident, assertive person, but I definitely wait for things to be offered to me rather than ask for them. Lately, I’ve started to wonder just how much my irrational fear of getting a knockback has been holding me back. What opportunities have I missed out on? What would my life be like if I was one of those thick-skinned people who can brush it all off and get right back in the ring?
Best-selling author Jia Jiang is now one of those rhino-hide types, but it wasn’t always the case. The 40-year-old coach and motivational speaker used to be so crippled by his fear of rejection that he spent years trapped in a job he hated while he dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur.
I blame my mother. It was her departure when I was 15 to live in another city with her new boyfriend, 22 years ago now, that cemented my belief that not being wanted is too painful to bear
But in November 2012, he stumbled across an online game devised by a Canadian tech expert called Jason Comely, which challenged players to seek out rejections in everyday life to ‘break the tyranny of social anxiety’.
Embracing the concept, Jiang embarked on an extraordinary 100 days of knock-backs to see if he could train up his tolerance to getting dismissed in the same way you might build up a muscle. Jiang’s video blog of his rejection journey — which led to him playing football in a stranger’s garden, teaching a class at a college campus and getting Santa to sit on his lap (all because he just asked) — soon went viral.
His TED talk has been watched more than nine million times and his book, Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear And Became Invincible Through 100 Days Of Rejection, has become a bestseller.
‘The 100-day experiment really turned my life around,’ he tells me by phone from California, where he now lives. ‘In the beginning it felt so hard. It felt like a life-or-death situation to be putting myself out there like that. But the more I tried to get rejected, the more it opened my eyes to human kindness and I became much more confident about life.’
My partner usually initiates sex but this month I’m the one who tries to get things started…
Inspired by Jiang, I decide to spend the next month — rather than 100 days, which just feels like self-flagellation — trying to get rejected on a daily basis. I start small, but even that feels hideously uncomfortable. For weeks I’ve been meaning to ask my new cleaner to change the bed sheets. Even though it’s not a big ask, I feel crushingly awkward.
Eventually, five minutes before she leaves, I splutter out my request. ‘No problem,’ she says, and in a weird way I’m disappointed. The aim of Rejection Therapy is to get a hard no every day — her shrugged shoulders means I’ll have to find something else to get turned down for.
Huge influence: Best-selling author Jia Jiang used to be so crippled by his fear of rejection that he spent years trapped in a job he hated while he dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur
Over the next few weeks, getting a yes when I’m expecting a no becomes a pattern. Requests which are so outlandish or bizarre that I’m sure I’ll get turned down flat are met with smiles and acceptance.
I push to the front of a queue, get a free coffee by brazenly asking for one (‘don’t tell anyone’ smiles the barista in Pret) and negotiate a 10 per cent discount on a TV from a High Street store. It turns out that simply asking politely for stuff is its own kind of superpower.
Even the stranger in his 50s whom I approach at a bus stop and ask to borrow £100 from considers it, and asks why, before apologising that he doesn’t have any cash on him and, to be fair, giving me a rather strange — almost bemused — look before I can run away and hide around the corner. It seems people hate saying no as much as I hate asking for things.
When it comes to requesting things I actually want — from people I know — the game suddenly becomes much, much harder. I pluck up the courage to text ‘would you like a coffee?’ to a fellow mum with whom I recently swapped numbers in the playground. When she turns me down it immediately triggers my left-out-at-school shame. I want to crumple up and die — or at least never see her again.
I message an old friend I’ve lost touch with and offer to take her to lunch, but she fobs me off saying we’ll meet up ‘soon’. I wake up in the night feeling hot shame and regret run through me. It’s going to be a long 30 days.
In a way, it’s not surprising that getting turned down feels so hurtful. Studies have shown that the same regions of the brain get activated when we experience rejection as when we encounter physical pain. What’s more, women are more sensitive to this than men.
I push to the front of a queue, get a free coffee by brazenly asking for one (‘don’t tell anyone’ smiles the barista in Pret) and negotiate a 10 per cent discount on a TV from a High Street store. It turns out that simply asking politely for stuff is its own kind of superpower
When psychologists asked participants to compare the pain of rejection to physical pain, women ranked it alongside drug-free childbirth. If there was an epidural that could cure the pain of rejection, I’d be begging for it right now.
When I do start getting those knock-backs, at first they seem harder — not easier — to take.
I pitch an idea to an editor — something that freelance journalists do routinely. I rarely do because I’m too frightened of a no and instead wait for commissions. The editor ghosts me. I don’t even get an actual no, but it still feels embarrassing and icky.
I text my sister and ask her to babysit but she can’t. Although the logical part of my brain understands, the emotional part can’t help but feel shunned. I start to realise it’s a lot easier for people to say no when it’s not to your face. I also discover that I almost never get turned down if I give a reason, even if it’s not particularly good.
Expert guide to making yourself rejection-proof
See rejection for what it is
We think every rejection is an indictment of who we are and every acceptance is a confirmation of our merit. It’s not. In reality, it’s just one person’s opinion. If you can remove the emotion and see rejection clearly, it’s easier to remain calm and move on.
Ask the question in the right way
Do it in person and you want to feel relaxed, not nervous or aggressive as people pick up on that. Smile, because if you frown that signals that this is something tough. Say: ‘Can I ask you a favour? It’s OK to say no if it’s difficult but . . .’
That way, you remove all pressure and give people permission to be open to what you’re suggesting. It’s a problem you’re solving together. Many will actually welcome the opportunity to give you what you’re asking.
Every rejection is an opportunity
When we get a rejection, our instinct is to run as far away from it as possible, never to open that email again, to try to put it out of our minds for ever.
But, actually, the moment of rejection is a great learning opportunity if you can engage with it. If you’re rejected from a job, ask for feedback. If you’re rejected by a friend, try to work out what went wrong. These valuable lessons will help you get a yes next time.
By JIA JIANG
I get a table in a booked-out restaurant because I say it’s my boyfriend’s birthday. I take a selfie with a stranger when I pretend it’s for an art project.
In fact, when I try to get a hard no in person, I have to go to pretty extreme measures, such as asking to borrow a book from Waterstones (which gets a laugh), or taking my PC laptop to be fixed at the Apple Store (they try to help me anyway).
The one person I do feel comfortable asking for what I want without fear of rejection is my partner, Guy.
A therapist once told me that most couples fight because they don’t realise one golden rule: ‘You can ask, I can say no, and we can talk about it.’
This month, rather than seething with resentment about household chores, I ask Guy to do them. He’s happy to step up, and hadn’t noticed they needed doing. Then he rejects a request. I’m driving us to a family event and ask him to drive us back, even though I’ve agreed to be designated driver, and he says: ‘Actually, I’d rather not.’
I feel like I’ve been slapped, but I also respect him for being honest. Too often I agree to do things and then regret saying yes. Maybe I fear rejection so much, I can’t bear to dish it out either. Although I’m not usually the one to initiate sex, this month I make an effort to get things started. Most nights he’s delighted but eventually he begs off, saying he’s just too exhausted. We can laugh about it though, so it doesn’t feel embarrassing.
The request which propelled Jiang’s experiment to mainstream attention was going into a Krispy Kreme to ask for doughnuts in the shape of the Olympic rings.
He was expecting an easy ‘no’, but the woman working there made him some specially, and gave them to him for free. Sadly, I don’t have as much success in Krispy Kreme in Westfield, Stratford, East London.
‘We don’t do that kind of thing,’ says the bored-looking teenager behind the till. It’s strange, but my rejections are beginning to feel like successes. No special doughnuts, but at least my daily rejection chore is out of the way. Phew!
At the end of the month, I get a big fat no, which would normally have crushed me: my agent rejects a book idea I’ve long worked on. It’s disappointing, but I am amazed to find that by the end of the meeting I’ve accepted her feedback and can move on. The therapy is starting to work.
I don’t know if it’s because the rejections feel less personal now I’ve had so many, or if I’m just more comfortable asking for the things I want. I’ve realised the mother of all rejections I endured in childhood was a long time ago, and not a reflection of the person I am now.
Even just the thought of getting rejected used to paralyse me with shame, but after overdosing on it for a month I feel a lot more robust. I remember people saying that you should always give something a shot, because the worst that could happen is for someone to say no. Yet, actually, I’ve realised that there’s something even worse than that. Someone saying: ‘But you didn’t even ask.’