Whenever I am enraged by a sticky situation on reality TV (which would be every time I watch, so I don't any more) or surprised by a plot twist in a romantic comedy (oh Meg Ryan) or even given to my steadfast opinions while observing a corporate meeting meltdown (pass the popcorn), I have one recurring thought. “I would do that differently. I would absolutely know how to handle that situation way better than THEY are”. Any theoretical or theatrical situation that calls for honesty and vulnerability, integrity, authenticity, bravery or grit, I would have bet cash money that I had the fortitude and courage to be the hero, wear my heart on my sleeve or give of myself with the dignity, generosity, bravery and self assuredness of Mother Theresa, Super Woman or Kate Hepburn. Fairly certain that I was genetically predisposed to this ability to make excellent choices in language, behavior and courage in a variety of situations, I just couldn’t fathom what the fuss was about when I began to hear about “rejection therapy” with more and more frequency.
I stumbled upon podcast episodes, coaching programs, books, Creative Live classes and more, all circling around this crazy idea that perhaps we are not as brave, smart, daring or willing to stretch our comfort zones as we THINK we are. “Hooey!” I thought to myself. Mission accepted.
1. Tim Ferris, Bestselling Author of The 4 Hour Workweek, Host of the podcast of the same name and star of the web series The Tim Ferriss Experiment, is famous for deconstructing the behavior, habits and routines of world class performers, athletes and entrepreneurs so that he can try on their methodologies himself. Tim regularly stretches his comfort zone by trying exercises in daring and suggests for us to do the same. He proposes lying down on the floor of your local coffee shop for about 2 minutes then getting up and going on with your day as if nothing has happened. Placing ones self in a position of awkward attention to become accustomed to discomfort and to realize that once it’s done, no one really gives a hoot, is the aim of this simple but incredibly difficult to execute exercise. Because I am 45 years old and have an extra 40 lbs. of fat on my body, I opted to not lie down on the floor of a public space lest I unintentionally instigate a call to 911. I did however, remember a suggestion that my Buddhist Mentor, Josh Korda (of DharmaPunx NYC) had given to me earlier this year. He had challenged me to take my guitar out to a local park to play and sing. Not with my hat out on the ground looking for cashola, but to do it simply as a declaration of self-expression and facing fear. I accepted the challenge right away but when the rubber hit the road I always seemed to find a reason to weasel out of this commitment. It was as if my feet were glued to the floor every time I set out to the park and I couldn’t do it. 6 months later and deadline for this article looming; I grabbed my guitalele (it’s like a Uke but with 6 strings) and hit the green grass. Sitting at a bench toward the back of the garden I plucked and strummed softly and then with increasing confidence. People strolled by and smiled. They smiled at me! Dogs ran over and licked my hand. They didn’t bite or howl or bark. And I smiled back. It was refreshing to feel connected to people in a new way. As I opened up more it seemed as if the world was opening up to me in response. I even began to hum then sing a little bit along with my playing before packing up and moving on feeling kind of proud of myself and definitely better for having done it.
2. Noah Kagan, Entrepreneur, Chief Sumo at the software company SumoMe and also known for being employee #30 at Facebook talks often about facing fear and has a few rejection experiments of his own up his sleeve. In his Creative Live Class “Overcome Fear to Get What You Want” he proposes that we call the people we love and tell them how much we care about them. Not tomorrow, but immediately, NOW. He also suggests that we ask for 10% off our drink the next time we go into a coffee shop and see what happens, how does it feel? He even says it’s cause for celebration when we get a NO. The special sauce is in the asking and in realizing in the end that rejection is not as scary as we once thought. Noticing that we can walk away from a rejection in one piece is a lesson in resiliency that can absolutely not be taught in theory. As another of my Buddhist teachers has said “You can read all you want about swimming, but you are never going to really know how or what it feels like until you get wet.” I have not asked for the 10% discount yet but I did face my fears around asking for money and help by setting up a GoFundMe campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/DebsHospiceEd) for support with the costs of my Hospice Care Training. Setting up a social media campaign is not super scary but I took it a step further and made a concerted effort to enroll my coworkers and friends in conversations about Hospice and why it is important followed by a request to donate to my cause. I have been a professional fundraiser over the years but never for a cause that would so directly benefit something that I was so personally invested in. The stakes felt very high. Some friends were super psyched to jump on board and others kind of uncomfortable that I would even ask. The more I asked the more I became aware that EVERYONE has issues with money, stories, hang-ups, delight or dysfunction. The reactions and rejections became less personal with time. This way, when the stakes became less risky in my mind, I became more and more comfortable with simply discussing the value of hospice care work. The process of asking became just a natural but consistent next step and an affirmation of my commitment to the work. My relationships with my friends and co workers became that much deeper as I was able to listen to their stories (of which there were many) about times in their lives when they leaned on the help of hospice care workers.
Noah also suggests walking up to strangers and asking if they will take a picture with you. Yesterday I went out to run some errands but also in search of someone to take a picture with. It took a few hours for me to really get down to business. But at the Rite Aid I found my target. In the Toothpaste aisle I saw the most confused looking, adorable old man. I approached him and asked if I could help him find something. He said; “They rearrange everything to sell more but forget about old customers like me”. He was looking for a particular type of floss and I pointed it out to him on the shelf right next to us. He grabbed the right package and asked if he could help me find what I was looking for. I was looking for a toothbrush to have on hand for the next potential boyfriend I’m imagining might need one someday. (If you build it, they will come.) BUT since this old man was clearly in his 80’s and not wanting to give him a heart attack, I just said, “A toothbrush”. We turned and he grabbed me 2 brushes marked 2 for 1 from the shelf on the other side of the aisle. He introduced himself as Mr. [anonymous] “The Greek” and I introduced myself. Before I could ask for his picture he began to tell me how excited he was that his wife was coming home from abroad soon and how wonderful she was. He told me about how he’s been in Astoria for over 50 years since he moved here in his 20’s from Greece, how the neighborhood is getting too expensive and how “not so smart” people are moving in (I took this to mean hipsters). He asked if I was married and practically crossed his eyes when I said no. He said I best get to it before it gets too late. He asked what I do for a living and this gave me a perfect segue to ask for his photo. I told him I do a lot of things and that writing was one, that I’d been given an assignment to ask people if they would take their picture with me in pursuit of a rejection experiment. He kindly and bashfully declined, citing his wife’s feelings as his reason. How sweet it is to meet someone who puts another’s feelings first. Bravo, Mr. The Greek. So I failed but I get points anyway for asking. I’m starting to get that these exercises are less about the collection and more about the connection.
3. In the Good Life Project Podcast - Overcoming Rejection: The 100 day Experiment That Changed Everything – Jonathan Fields Interviews Jia Jiang, author of Rejection Proof - http://www.goodlifeproject.com/jia-jiang/. Jia was inspired by Jason Comley’s Rejection Therapy™ (http://rejectiontherapy.com/) which is a real life game with one rule. (To place oneself in the crosshairs of rejection.) The game is designed for anyone who wants to build confidence and overcome fear of rejection. In the interview Jia speaks at length about his dream to become an entrepreneur. He instinctively knew that to become a success he would have to face and slay the dragon of insecurity and fear of being rejected. See his Ted Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFWyseydTkQ I can relate to his experience of being rejected in his quest to build a better business and how the experience of being passed over for funding felt impersonal yet so deeply personal at the same time. Crushing. To move beyond this mighty blow would take exercising a new muscle. It got me to thinking about why I was so very unhappy. Why I was continuing to struggle at work that I was unskilled to do and unable to succeed at every day. Why was I chained to a desk when I wanted so desperately to be working with people in a creative way? My path felt like it had become one of a fraud and a liar, to others but more desperately to myself. The life I was leading was chipping away at the foundation of my integrity and rendering me a joyless shell of a woman. And whose fault was that? Not my bosses or the company, definitely not Obama’s! It was my miscalculation and it was within MY power to correct this course. I did not take on one of the smaller challenges that Jia talks about in his interview but I did follow his example in finally deciding to leave my job. I realized that what had kept me there was a fear of rejection that was so deep and so paralyzing that I had no choice but to face it. I had been rejecting myself by accepting a safe job that was killing me. Like Jia, I gave myself a 6 month buffer to get me down the runway of entrepreneurship and it was time to take the leap. I gave a 4-week notice, interviewed candidates to fill my position and trained my replacement. I walked away with clean hands and a clean conscience and proud of the way I cut my ties. I am grateful for the people that allowed me to work with them and I do not regret my decision to move on one bit. I’m still in month 1 of my 6-month runway. I am working on building a business empowering others to follow their passions. I am starting work and continuing my education in the helping professions. I am committed to writing and theatre and making people laugh (or navigating it in a healthy way if they don’t laugh). What’s my next rejection challenge? Going on dates and exploring what that has to offer before the end of 2015. Wish me luck, or at least the resilience to grow from the rejection.