Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang
Jia Jiang grew up in Beijing until the age of fourteen when he moved to the United States as an exchange student. Mistakes were made, and Jiang was placed in the home of petty swindlers in Louisiana (where he slept in the room of their son, a convicted murderer). The couple stole his money.
Scared and uncertain what to do, Jiang reported them to the high school superintendent (the couple were arrested) and as a result, he was moved to another home, where, he tells us, he “found spiritual faith” with his new host family who treated him with love and respect. He also learned, “that there are good and bad people in the world, and they would certainly not treat me the same way.” This early experience of overcoming a setback in a foreign land clearly influenced Jiang, giving him an openness toward others that helped him in the writing of this book, in which he documents overcoming his own fear of rejection.
Rejection Proof is a quick, light read of the “business self-help” variety. It identifies a universal problem—fear of rejection—establishes the seriousness of the problem, provides solutions, then summarizes them—complete with a list of lessons derived from each chapter—all wrapped around a core of humorous and relatable examples from the author’s own life. Voilà.
As a young boy in Beijing, Jiang tells us, “at a time when every school-age child was taught to be a model worker and a building block for the growth of the nation”, he broke ranks, instead idolizing Bill Gates and dreaming of someday being a famous entrepreneur himself.
But contrary to that dream, at the start of the book, on the eve of the birth of his first child, Jiang, with an MBA from Duke University, works in marketing at a Fortune 500 company. Despite earning a “six-figure” salary he is terribly unhappy. An existential crisis is averted when his loving wife, Tracy, also from China, encourages the author to quit his job and pursue his dream of entrepreneurship. She gives him a window of six months, saying, “You just make sure you give everything you have—and leave no regret.”
So Jiang quits his job to build an app that—by “gamifying” the act of promise-keeping—helps people keep their word. After a traumatic rejection from a potential investor, Jiang spirals downward into doubt, anger, fear and insecurity.
With encouragement from Tracy, and realizing that an entrepreneur must be able to take a licking and keep on ticking, so to speak, Jiang searches the Internet (what else?) and finds a technique called Rejection Therapy, pioneered by a Canadian entrepreneur named Jason Comely, in which the participant purposely and repeatedly seeks rejection to de-sensitize himself to “the pain of the word no”.
Though Jiang may never be an entrepreneur on the order of Bill Gates, he does have a performative streak. Each day for 100 days, Jiang posted video of himself (they can be seen here), nervously but sweetly, in accented English, making a request of another person that will likely be found ridiculous and be refused, in order to harden himself to the process. Never mind that the author has a past career as a marketing professional, most of his requests have a goofy, high-school humor quality to them—such as going to a Pathmark dog-grooming counter and asking to have his hair cut like a German Shepherd.
The request for a canine coiffure is rejected, but Jiang often succeeds, as he does when asking the night pharmacist at a drive-through-drug store to photograph his image on the security camera as he dances. When she agrees he does his best Psy imitation, dancing “Gangnam Style” in the parking lot. Out of these experiences emerge the books “lessons” on the constructive handling of rejection, such as “Ask Why Before Goodbye: Sustain the conversation after the initial rejection”, “Retreat, Don’t Run” and “Collaborate, Don’t Contend”.
Though the book is amusing, its lessons can seem banal and jejune and its sincere tone cloying; it is probably best read by those seeking rejection therapy. It is interesting to observe in passing that Jiang’s requests are often, though not always, posed to an employee working in a dead-end service job (in the America of strip-malls) who is all too happy to express individuality and deviate from a “script”, such as when the author convinces the flight attendants on a plane to let him make the safety announcement, or in the case of Jackie-the-helpful-and innovative-Krispy-Kreme employee who daringly veers off menu to fulfill the author’s request for a box of “Olympic Donuts”, entwined like Olympic rings, and gives them to him, free-of-charge. In a post-post modern twist, this video “went viral”, and she became a minor-celebrity for her “genuine human kindness”.
Looked at from another perspective, is it any wonder, given America’s shrinking middle class and the plight of the minimum-wage-worker, that many readers, facing what one could call “systemic” rejection, might find inspiration in the life-story of a first-generation post-Cultural Revolution immigrant who assimilated so completely that he is a self-help guru?
Instead of getting stuck in the “golden cage” of a good-enough corporate existence (for which, many of his readers would doubtless happily trade their jobs), Jia Jiang takes a risk to stay true to his early vision, as, when walking across the snow-covered campus of the University of Utah, he remembers